John William Waterhouse. Part 5.

Sirens, mermaids, nudes and controversy

In my last look at John William Waterhouse’s life and artwork I am reverting to his love of mythological subjects and his love of women regaled in verse by well-known poets and story tellers. It was Waterhouse’s ability to depict beautiful women which made him popular with the public of the time.

Lamia by John William Waterhouse (1905)

In 1905 Waterhouse completed a work entitled Lamia. Although the name conjures up a gentle soul, it couldn’t be further from the truth. The word lamia means vampire, witch, sorceress, ghoul, or enchantress and the character emanates from Greek mythology. According to Greek myth, following the killing of Lamia’s children by the goddess, Hera, she sought vengeance by sucking the blood of men she seduced and devouring their children. Waterhouse was drawn to the subject through John Keats’ 1819 narrative poem Lamia. The poet however does not openly condemn the animal-woman as evil, but rather dwells on her beauty and the sexual excitement she offers. In the painting we see the foot of the soldier treading on the tail of the serpent Lamia and we see the scales she has shed wrapped around the back of her legs.  These colourful scales contrast with her pale arms which she holds out towards the soldier. In all, Waterhouse completed three versions of this work, all around the same size. The original one, which was exhibited at the 1905 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, was purchased by Sir Alexander Henderson, Baron Faringdon, whose family members were keen patrons of Waterhouse.

La Belle Dame sans Merci by John William Waterhouse (1893)

Another of Keats’ maidens featured in a work by Waterhouse. In 1820 Keats penned his poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci (The Beautiful Woman without Mercy). It tells of a knight who meets a beautiful enchantress.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

The knight has fallen in love with this beautiful delicate creature but is she all that she seems? The knight is besotted and falls into a sleep and dreams of how he first met the female. However, in the knight’s dreams he is warned against a liaison with this beautiful maiden.

She took me to her Elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Thee hath in thrall!

On waking from his sleep, he finds the maiden has gone and he is heartbroken. The setting for this work is a dense wood which symbolises both a sense of entanglement and moral confusion. Waterhouse’s painting is at the point in the poem when the knight meets the woman. He is depicted bending down towards her. He is totally bemused by her beauty as he looks at her upturned face. On the right sleeve of the woman there is a heart. She entraps the knight coiling her long hair around his neck like a serpent capturing its prey. She is tying her hair in a knot so as to entrap the knight. She pulls him towards her. She stares at him and he is lost, almost as if he has been hypnotised by her beauty. He has dropped his lance to the ground which metaphorically is a sign of his defencelessness, a powerlessness against her wiles and also symbolises a loss of his masculine virility. This beautiful sprite has emasculated him. It is a highly sensual work as we look upon the knight and the woman gazing into each other’s eyes. There is a tenseness about the depiction but as we know, once their lips meet, the knight will be lost. In a way Waterhouse’s depiction plays on the fears of men about their vulnerability at the hands of the fairer sex. It is also a statement regarding woman’s constant need to be loved.

Hylas and the Nymphs (1896) by John William Waterhouse

The interaction between males and females was of continuing interest to Waterhouse and he would often depict such interplay between the sexes by portraying mythological stories.  In his 1896 he completed a painting entitled Hylas and the Nymphs, the setting of which is somewhere deep in an overgrown woodland surrounding a murky pond with its clumps of reeds and lilies. It is very reminiscent of the setting in John Everett Millais’ 1852 painting Ophelia. The depiction comes from the story of Jason and the Argonauts. Hylas, a very handsome youth, was one of Jason’s crew. When Jason’s boat landed on an island during his search for the Golden Fleece, Hylas was sent ashore to bring back some fresh water for the men. Hylas found a pool in a clearing and he reached down and put his pitcher into the water but before he could raise his pitcher, he looked up to discover water nymphs encircling him and we know that he is doomed. They were enticed by his beauty, and one of the nymphs reached up to kiss him. Immediately Hylas disappeared without trace, never to be found again and after a protracted search for his missing crewman,  Jason decided to leave the island and continue with his travels.

Preliminary sketch for Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse

The painting depicts the woodland pond in which we see the seven bare-breasted nymphs bathing, whilst, on the bank, we see Hylas kneeling down with his pitcher immersed in the water. There is a gentle sexuality about these captivating naked nymphs in the translucent water. Hylas’ olive skin tone is darker than that of the cream skin tones of the nymphs which contrasts with their dark hair. Although the legend describes Hylas as a very handsome man, our eyes immediately alight on the central nymph, who has hypnotised Hylas with her beauty and in some way has mesmerised us, the viewers of the painting. The painting was not complete by the time of the 1896 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and instead, was shown at the Manchester Autumn Exhibition, and was, following the event, purchased by the Manchester Corporation. They then allowed it to be displayed at the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1897. The painting was later loaned to a number of international exhibitions including the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle.

Hylas and the Nymphs (detail) by John William Waterhouse

The painting was the centre of a controversy in 2018 when the curator of the Manchester Art Gallery decided to remove the painting from the walls of the permanent collection. What triggered the removal? Some believed because of the nudity on display in the work. The official stance was that removal of the painting was part of an art project by British Afro-Caribbean artist Sonia Boyce inspired by the MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns. A film of the removal of the picture was screened at the gallery with the intention being to inspire debate about the presentation of women ! There was an instant backlash from the public with regards this removal and the national press had a field day when the curator had to reverse her decision. The Daily Mail of February 5th 2018 splashed the headline:

Offensive nymphs are back on display at Manchester Art Gallery after backlash when artwork was taken over fear it was offensive to women.

Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs was taken down, it was ‘offensive to women’.  A curator had claimed that the 1896 artwork perpetuated ‘outdated and damaging stories’ that ‘women are either femmes fatale or passive bodies’
A gallery accused of censorship after removing a pre-Raphaelite masterpiece for supposedly being offensive to women has made a humiliating U-turn.
After a furious backlash against Manchester Art Gallery for taking down John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs, the painting returned to pride of place over the weekend.

The Manchester Gallery had then to formulate a statement explaining the removal and subsequent return.  Amanda Wallace, Interim Director Manchester Art Gallery, said:

“…We’ve been inundated with responses to our temporary removal of Hylas and the Nymphs as part of the forthcoming Sonia Boyce exhibition, and it’s been amazing to see the depth and range of feelings expressed.  The painting is rightly acknowledged as one of the highlights of our Pre-Raphaelite collection, and over the years has been enjoyed by millions of visitors to the gallery.  We were hoping the experiment would stimulate discussion, and it’s fair to say we’ve had that in spades – and not just from local people but from art-lovers around the world.  Throughout the painting’s seven-day absence, it’s been clear that many people feel very strongly about the issues raised, and we now plan to harness this strength of feeling for some further debate on these wider issues…”

Hylas and the Water Nymphs by Henrietta Rae (1909)

It is ironic that such a supposed declaration by the Manchester gallery that the painting was somewhat sexist and against feminist principles in the way it depicted naked women as the great Victorian painter and staunch supporter of feminism and women’s suffrage, and organiser of an exhibition of female artists for the Jubilee of Queen Victoria, Henrietta Rae, produced a similar painting in 1909.

A Mermaid by John William Waterhouse (1900)

In traditional folklore, the mermaid was looked upon as being a traditional siren who lured unsuspecting sailors to their doom with her mesmerising songs. She was half fish, half human and longed for the company of men. It was these legendary figures that inspired Waterhouse to complete a number of paintings featuring mermaids and sirens. In 1900 he completed the painting entitled A Mermaid which is now part of the Royal Academy collection. Waterhouse’s interest in this subject was because of its mystical temptress whose beauty and charisma proved deadly to men. Yet it was the mermaid’s inability to form a meaningful relationship with a human being that was in itself a curse which fated her to live an unfulfilled life. It could be that Waterhouse’s interest in this aspect was more to do with how men became anxious when confronted by an enchanting female as capitulating to such feelings could have a tragic outcome. In the painting we see a mermaid combing out her long red hair whilst singing a hypnotic song and by combining these elements Waterhouse is making the connection between the narcissistic trait of females with man’s vulnerability when it comes to beautiful women. Before the mermaid, there is a large shell containing pearls, which legend has it are formed by the tears of dead sailors. The mermaid is perched on a rock and her tail has coiled around her, almost as if she is hugging herself. Once again Waterhouse’s depiction could have been influenced by Tennyson’s 1830 poem, The Mermaid, with the lines:

Who would be
A mermaid fair,
Singing alone,
Combing her hair
Under the sea,
In a golden curl
With a comb of pearl,
On a throne?

The Siren by John William Waterhouse (1900)

That same year, 1900, Waterhouse completed a similar work entitled The Siren. This was his belated (by five years) Royal Academy Diploma Picture after being elected a full Academician in 1895. In this work Waterhouse has the mermaid perched on a rock and the shell we saw in A Mermaid painting has been supplanted by a musical instrument, the lyre. In The Siren, Waterhouse has depicted the siren looking down upon the drowning sailor. The expression on the siren’s face is somewhat mystifying as it is one of inquisitiveness and not one would expect from a “creature” who is about to watch the sailor drown in the raging sea. It is almost a look of compassion. The expression on the sailor’s face is one of pleading to be saved.

John William Waterhouse (c.1886)

In 1915, John William Waterhouse was diagnosed as having liver cancer and two years later, he died at home on February 10th 1917 at the age of 68, and was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London. Thirteen years after his death., his widow, through Christies, sold one hundred of her late husband’s works. Sadly, by that time, Waterhouse’s works had become unfashionable and his famous painting Ophelia was purchased for a meagre £450. However, by the 1960’s his work has become more popular and the postcard of his painting Lady of Shalott has become the Tate’s best-seller. His reputation was further enhanced in 2000 when his painting St Cecilia fetched £6.6 million at auction. It was the highest price ever paid for a Victorian painting. There was a major retrospective of his work at the Royal Academy in 2009 at which Waterhouse was described as:

“…one of Britain’s best-loved nineteenth century painters…”

In the exhibition catalogue which accompanied the exhibition, a biographer of Waterhouse wrote in the introduction:

“…Coursing through the pictures, across five decades, are Waterhouse’s fascination with melancholy, magic, and the thrilling dangers of love and beauty… they are lyrical in the truest sense of the word – imbued with the same hypnotic power possessed by the ancient poets who sang their stories. This was also a man particularly enthralled with female beauty and the power of women over men, over nature, over each other – no matter how sturdy or fragile they might appear physically…”

Annie Louise Swynnerton. Part 1 – the early years.

Portrait of Annie Swynnerton by Gwenny Griffiths (1928)

The media these days is full of articles and comments about the lack of equality suffered by women in all walks of life. One hopes that it is not just a fad that the media believe its audience want to be informed about but will die away like so many “hot topics” in the past. Women have had to struggle for too long and nowhere so much as in the male-dominated world of art. In the next few blogs I want to feature a female artist who railed against such inequalities. My featured artist today is the English painter Annie Louise Swynnerton (née Robinson).

Annie Swynnerton

Annie Louise Robinson was born  at 3 Vine Grove, Hulme, an inner-city working-class area south of the city centre of Manchester. She was one of seven daughters of Ann Sanderson and Francis Robinson. Her father came from a humble background, his father plying his trade as a carpenter. After he had completed his schooling, Francis Robinson embarked on a career in law as an attorney’s clerk. He married Anne Sanderson, the daughter of a York innkeeper, in 1840. Francis Robinson’s legal career progressed and in 1843 he attained the position of managing clerk in the Higsons law firm, later the firm became Higsons and Robinson. The couple had seven children, all daughters, the first born being Annie Louisa Robinson who entered the world on February 26th 1844. She was followed by Emily, Julia, Sarah, Adela, Mary and Frances. Annie was baptised at St Wilfrid’s Catholic Church later that year. The family changed their place of residence many times when Annie was growing up, living in various Manchester suburbs, such as Kersal, Chorlton-on-Medlock, Greenhays and in 1861 the seventeen-year-old was living at 227 Prestwich Park, Salford. This was a prestigious area of Manchester and the Robinson’s home was an eight-bedroomed house and was large enough to accommodate the parents, their seven children, Mary Robinson, Francis’ unmarried sister and two young Irish servant girls. The next-door neighbours were both prosperous  families, one being a hat manufacturer who employed over two hundred workers and on the other side the neighbour was a silk merchant.

Annie Swynnerton in her studio painting Sense of Light (1895)

Around the end of the 1860’s there was a change in the family fortunes. Francis Robinson’s financial situation deteriorated when his firm was declared bankrupt. In 1869, Francis Robinson lost his home and most of its contents were sold off over a three-day period to pay off his debts. From census records of 1871 it is apparent that Annie, along with her two oldest sisters, Emily and Julia, and her two youngest sisters, Mary and Francis had moved to a small rented property at 28 Upper Brook Street in Chorlton-on-Medlock, an inner city area of Manchester but strangely there is no record of their father and mother living at this premises but they could have been out of the country during the census. Her aunt, Mary, and her step-grandmother lived in another small terraced house in the same street and were recorded as visitors to this property at the time of the census as were Annie’s other two sisters, Sarah and Adela. Maybe they lived somewhere else. Maybe they lived with their parents.

Glow Worm by Annie Swnnerton (1900)

In the autumn of 1868, Annie, Emily and Julia attended, on a part time basis, the nearby Manchester School of Art on Mosely Street, which is now the Manchester Art Gallery. One cannot be sure whether Annie had planned to become a professional fine artist or simply develop the skills which would count if she ever applied for a post as a governess. The three sisters all did well and, during the period they were there and won a number of prizes. In 1873, Annie won the respected national award, the Princess of Wales Scholarship, for the drawing of the head of a boy and a further award for one of her oil paintings. She received a gold medal and the princely sum of £11. It is apparent that the reason the three young ladies attended the School was to hone their artistic skills to such an extent that they would be able to sell their work and make some much needed money to support themselves, but it would also make them independent and maybe even self-sufficient and avoid relying on a man to support them. At this time, there was a vibrant market for contemporary art from the well-off merchants of Manchester who tended to steer clear of the art of the “old masters” as their knowledge of such work often led to deception and they preferred to commission their own paintings from up-and-coming painters.

Unwinding the Skein by Annie Swynnerton

Annie Swynnerton’s struggle against prejudice and her eventual success at becoming a professional artist was an amazing achievement. People, who have studied the paths taken by females in the art world, soon realised that those few who succeeded had family artistic connections and no doubt family support for their venture into the male-dominated art world. However, Annie had no such parental backing, no artistic or social connections, which could have smoothed her path towards an artistic career, no early artistic training for remember she was twenty-four years of age when she attended the Manchester School of Art, also she had the responsibility of bringing up her younger siblings in cramped living conditions which did not favour the work of an artist. She was simply the daughter of a provincial attorney who turned to art as a way of earning money to support her family. She entered the art school with little going for her except her great determination to succeed.

Susan Isabel Dacre by Annie Swynnerton (1880)

For artists to make money they must be able to exhibit and sell their work and at that time in Manchester the main route for this was to become a member of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts and be allowed to show their work at the annual Spring exhibition. However, the Academy which had been founded in 1859, would not accept female artists into its fold. Annie was a fighter and would not accept things without a fight and so in 1874, along with some other female artists petitioned the Academy council to be allowed to become members. They had also made sure that their request was well reported in the local newspapers. In 1875, the Academy fearing bad publicity agreed on a compromise by which a new class of Academy membership was created and was to be known as Lady Exhibitioners, but the Academy would still neither let females hold office within the Academy nor would they let them attend the life drawing classes which was such an important aspect in artistic training. In 1875 Annie, her sisters Emily and Julia, her friend Isabel Dacre and five other female artists were elected as Lady Exhibitioners at the Manchester Academy but by this time and because of Annie’s lack of access to life drawing classes at the Academy which she found unacceptable, she had already left the country.

The Walls of Sienna by Isabel Dacre

Often in life it is a chance meeting with another person which will shape and influence your future. For Annie it was the meeting and the enduring friendship with her fellow Manchester School of Art student Susan Isabel Dacre. Warwickshire-born, convent-educated in Salford, where her mother kept a number of small hotels, Dacre was the same age as Swynnerton and like Annie had not had the benefit of an advantaged background. However, the early life of Isabel and Annie could not be more different for whereas Annie Swynnerton had led a quiet life in Manchester Isabel Dacre was an experienced traveller. At the age of fourteen Isabel was living in Paris and after completing her schooling there worked as a governess in the French capital and studied art at the Louvre. In 1869 she spent the winter in Italy before returning to Paris. However, following the war between France and Prussia which saw the French capital besieged by the Prussian troops in 1870,  Isabel Dacre and her brother hastily left France and returned to Manchester. They returned to Paris at the cessation of the Franco-Prussian War but were then caught up in the bloody and very dangerous Paris Commune uprisings in 1871 and had to once again quickly exit the country. On her return to Manchester Isabel Dacre became a student at the Manchester School of Art.

The Town of Sienna by Annie Swynnerton (c.1880’s)

There can be no doubt that Isabel Dacre had a great influence on Annie Swynnerton and managed to persuade her to join her in a trip to Paris and the opportunity to further their artistic career once they had concluded their art course in Manchester in the autumn of 1874. First port of call for the pair was Rome where the two women studied for two years and became part of the Anglo-American artistic and literary circle which had become well established in the city. Here they mixed with female writers, singers, actresses and artists. Swynnerton loved the Italian lifestyle and later lived there for lengthy periods between 1883 and 1910. Italy and the Italian way of life was to influence Swynnerton and this can be seen in the vibrant colours used in her portrayals of women.

The Roman Lady Jebsa by Annie Swynnerton (1874)

One such work which she completed in 1874 was an exquisite oil portrait entitled Roma Lady ‘Jebsa’. It is a Victorian portrait of an elegant Roma woman in traditional dress.   The name Jebsa has no historical or literary connotation and so it is presumed that Annie and the sitter could have been on first-name terms. This was Annie Swynnerton’s earliest known oil painting which she completed during her first visit to Italy. In this work, she has used the technique known as chiaroscuro, which is the use of strong tonal contrasts between light and dark to model three-dimensional forms which had been used by Italian artists such as Caravaggio during the High Renaissance period and Annie would have seen many of his works whilst in Rome.

An Italian Mother and Child by Annie Swynnerton (1886)

Another portrait of note emanating from her time in Italy was her 1886 painting entitled An Italian Mother and Child. It was one of a series of Italian women and child paintings that Annie produced during the 1880’s.  The woman and child are posed in an arch of the wall of the Campo Verano cemetery that overlooks the Basilica Papale di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (Basilica of St Lawrence outside the Walls).  In this portrait we see a young woman bedecked in a simple peasant dress with its white blouse with puff sleeves and a white head dress. She is sitting on a wall below an ivy-covered archway. On her lap stands her young pudgy-thighed child. The child is dressed in a blue dress with a white undergarment and a gold medallion necklace around her neck. The mother supports her child with her left hand, holding the child’s right hand with her right. Look at how the artist has used white highlights to depict how the bright natural sunlight  has fallen on the woman’s headdress, arms and knees.  The painting has a look of Renaissance art which Swynnerton would have studied during her days in Italy.

The Young Mother (Through the Orchard) by Annie Swynnerton (1885)

Another mother and child painting was completed by Swynnerton in the 1880’s entitled Mother and Child but often referred to as Through the Orchard.  The setting for this painting was Clovelly in Devon.  Similar to the previous work we can see how Annie has registered area where the natural light has touched various surfaces.  The inclusion of the apple tree as a background element harks back to pre-Raphaelite concept of truth to nature.  Annie has used a palette of earthy colours in this portrayal of a working-class woman and is a reminder of the Rural Naturalist paintings done by the likes of Bastien-Lepage and George Clausen.  The woman carries her young child as well as carrying a pitcher of water and symbolises the roles of motherhood, and worker.

Around the end of 1876, Annie and Isabel left Italy and returned to Manchester.

…………………………………………to be continued.

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Most of the information for this and following blogs about Annie Swynnerton was found in some excellent books which I bought at the Painting Light and Hope exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery.

Annie Swynnerton, Painting Light and Hope by Kate JT Herrington and Rebecca Milner

The Life and Works of Annie Louise Swynnerton by Susan Thomson

Annie Swynnerton, Painter and Pioneer by Christine Allen and Penny Morris.

The Irish Girl and The English Boy by Ford Madox Brown

Manchester Art Gallery exhibition

The other day I went to Manchester to see the Ford Madox Brown exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery.  The exhibition opened on September 24th and runs until January 29th 2012 and I strongly recommend you make the effort to visit the city and take in this superb show which displays 140 public and private works from this talented 19th century painter.  I have already  featured two of Ford Madox Brown’s paintings, The Last of England (June 15th) and Manfred on the Jungfrau (July 21st), the former I saw when I visited the Birmingham Art Gallery and the latter which I had hoped to view when I went to Manchester a few months ago had been withdrawn from the gallery for some restoration work prior to this new exhibition.   Both of these works are on show at the current Manchester Exhibition.

I will, in the coming months, review more of Ford Madox Brown’s works,  which I saw at the exhibition, but I need to space them out a little otherwise I will be accused of featuring one artist too often.

Like most people, I had seen many of Ford Madox Brown’s paintings before, in books or on the internet, but what I had not realized was that he had completed many portraits of which a number were on display at the exhibition.  However, there is nothing more true than the saying “you cannot please all the people all the time” for as I researched today’s blog and was still buoyed up with my admiration for Brown’s portraits,  I came across the Daily Telegraph’s art critic’s, Alastair Smart, view of the exhibition and his assessment of some of the paintings, especially his portraiture.  He wrote:

“…Despite the show’s claims to the contrary, Brown’s portraits and biblical dramas aren’t up to much either: his figures are just too awkward in facial gesture, one toothy contortion after another…”

How disappointing to read that when I was still so enthused with what I had seen.  I loved his small portraits.  I did get some consolation however when I re-read the opening line of his article which stated quite bluntly:

“….First, a confession: I utterly loathe the Pre-Raphaelites. Oh, what a mawkish, melodramatic and clichéd bunch…”

The journalist did however go on to qualify his bold statement by saying that he realized Ford Madox Brown was not a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood but countered that by telling us that he did have a close association with the three founder members.  Guilty by association ?  Having said all that I will not be deflected from my proposed look at two of Brown’s small portraits, which I loved, even if the knowledgeable art critic disliked them. 

The Irish Girl by Ford Madox Brown (1860)

For My Daily Art Display today I am featuring two portraits, The Irish Girl and The English Boy as they were hung next to each other at the exhibition and in some ways they are connected.  It was the coming together of these “two old friends”, who were separated forty-seven years ago.  The man, who commissioned the paintings, was a Leeds stockbroker called Thomas Edward Plint, who was a patron of Ford Madox Brown, and an important Pre Raphaelite art collector.  In 1850, he had commissioned Brown to paint Work, and out of that commission came the painting, The Irish Girl, which also happens to be featured on all the exhibition publicity material.  To my mind this is a beautiful and haunting painting.  This small (almost 28cms square) oil on canvas work was completed by Brown in 1860 and is normally to be found exhibited at the Yale Centre of British Art.  The Yale Center for British Art, which is in New Haven, Connecticut, is a public art museum and research institute for the study of British art and culture. It was presented to Yale University by Paul Mellon who was in the Class of 1929 at Yale.  The Centre houses the largest collection of British art outside the United Kingdom.

In comparison to the portrait of the young English boy the young girl looks slightly nervous and somewhat troubled.  She has real beauty.  There is nothing idealized about this portrait.  Her haunting loveliness is plain to see and yet the difference between her and the English boy could not be starker.  Unlike the boy, she looks worldly–wise.  Her jet black hair, her dazzling brown eyes and her painted red lips are all part of her exquisiteness.   She has tilted her head a little to one side and her eyes focus on something off to the side.  When Ford Madox Brown was looking for Irish models for his painting Work he came across this young girl selling oranges and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to paint her portrait.   We see the fingers of her hand appearing from inside her red paisley shawl which is tightly wrapped around her and the colour of which complements the colour of her lips.  Between her fingers, she is gently holding a sprig of cornflowers. 

The English Boy by Ford Madox Brown (1860)

The portrait which hung next to the Irish Girl was entitled The English Boy and was the companion piece to the Irish Girl.  In this case the young child depicted was no stranger to Brown.  It was his five year old son, Oliver, and this too was painted in 1860.  It is slightly larger than the Irish Girl, measuring 39cms x 33cms.  This portrait is owned by the Manchester Art Gallery, which acquired it in 1932.  Although a companion piece to the Irish Girl they couldn’t be more different.  In this portrait,  the young child stares straight at us with a self-assured gaze.   It is a deadpan expression and we wonder what is going through his mind.   His cheeks are slightly flushed and this colouring in some way matches the red shawl and lips of the Irish Girl.   He wears a white smock over a red checked dress and on top of his head, sitting at a slightly jaunty angle, is a brown straw hat.  In his hands he clutches on tightly to the popular child’s toys of the time, a top and whip.  The way in which he holds the toys in some way reminds us of royal paintings where the subject holds a sceptre and orb.

Despite what our knowledgeable journalist would have us believe I don’t find these portraits in any way awkward in facial gesture.  I find them to be simply fascinating studies of two young children.