Artist and Missionary: Lilias Trotter

Lilias Trotter


My sister-in-law, Jenny, recently introduced me to the works and inspiration of Lilias Trotter.  It’s amazing that such a godly woman, artist, writer and devout missionary has escaped the notice and glory given to many other Christian pioneers and workers.

Publisher’s Weekly notes that, “sadly, the name of Lilias Trotter is no longer remembered by many people, except those 19th-century art experts who recall her as the painter who caused art critic John Ruskin to rhapsodically change his mind about the ability of women to be artists. Though all but forgotten now as an artist, Trotter [1853-1928] is venerated as a pioneering Christian missionary—she founded and funded a mission in North Africa where she served for nearly 40 years.

What the article doesn’t say, is just how dedicated Ms. Trotter was to the Lord.  The reason she may be “forgotten as an artist,” was the result of a life-changing, deliberate decision she made while under the tutelage of John Ruskin.  She said, “I see as clear as daylight now I cannot give myself to painting in the way he (John Ruskin) means and continue ‘to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.’” (1)

Some of Lilias’ exquisite paintings, coupled with her poignant writings and Scriptures, are recorded in A Blossom in the Desert: Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter, by Miriam Huffman Rockness.  Ms. Rockness also wrote A Passion for the Impossible, an acclaimed biography of this 19th century missionary and artist.  From the bibliography of the former, we find a literal legacy of journals, booklets, stories and parables all written by Lilias Trotter.   A remote few of these remain in print.

From her pen of long ago, comes meditations worthy of discovery today :

Act or Process?

is it an act, or a gradual process, this “putting off the old man”?  It is both.  It  is a resolve taken once for all, but carried out in detail day by day.  From the first hour that the layer of separation begins to form in the leaf-stalk, the leaf’s fate is sealed:  there is never a moment’s reversal of the decision.  Each day that follows is a steady carrying out of the plant purpose: “this old leaf shall die, and the new leaf shall live.”  So with your soul.  Come to the decision once for all: “Every known sin shall go–if there is a deliverance to be had, I will have it.”  Put the Cross of Christ, in its mysterious delivering power, irrevocably between you and sinning, and hold on there.  That is your part, and you must do it.”

The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God.  In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 6:10-11 (1)


(1)  A Blossom in the Desert, compiled and ed. by Miriam Huffman Rockness, pg 106.  Discovery House Publishers (Grand Rapids, MI). 2007.

11 thoughts on “Artist and Missionary: Lilias Trotter

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  5. Thanks for sharing this. I am an artist and a writer. While searching for missionary through arts, I stumbled on this. So glad to know such a passionate missionary..I must read her life story.

    • Thank you for commenting and I’m really glad you stumbled upon me and this post 🙂 I know you’ll be encouraged by her life, and find her artistry soothing and beautiful!

  6. Yes I am very much encouraged. In fact, I’ve been thinking about missionary work myself but at the same time still focusing on my arts and writing.
    Do keep me in prayers.

    • I will keep you in my prayers! That’s a big step, but if the Lord is leading you, it will be such a rewarding way to serve the Lord. Our daughter was a missionary for 5 years in Ukraine. Shes married now and has 2 vibrant boys–another worthy mission field 🙂

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