FOR BRANT NEWS
The painting of interest at Glenhyrst this June is a portrait of Annie Maria (Digby) Henwood by Robert Reginald Whale.
Annie Digby grew up in 19th century Brantford as the daughter of one of Brantford’s first doctors, Dr. Alfred Digby. Digby was an emigrant from County Meath, Ireland, who along with being a doctor was also active on city council and served twice as mayor, in 1848 and 1849.
It is tempting to guess that Annie much admired her father because she married a doctor, Dr. Reginald Henwood, who also became mayor in 1880 and 1881. In 1969, descendants of Annie and Reginald donated this and many other paintings to Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant.
It is interesting to note that in the December 1970 edition of Canadian Antiques Collector, this donation was listed as “Portrait of Mrs Henwood, oil on canvas, 42 x 30, gift of Mrs. Dean Andrews and Mrs. Hugh Clark.”
Just as the painting has undergone some change due to time, restoration and reframing, contemporary attitudes have also undergone change toward women and their names. We now list this painting as “Portrait of Annie (Digby) Henwood.”
Whale has portrayed Annie in muted, yet warm colours. He has utilized various hues of sepia for the majority of the painting, emphasizing the lighter tones used for the face, lace and jewellery.
In this painting, the eye is immediately drawn to the face, placed almost exactly in the centre of the painting from left to right. The face is shown in three-quarter profile, which helps to offset the symmetry. The rest of the composition also helps to alleviate the strong symmetry. This is a standard composition for Whale, who did so many portraits that his compositions were often repeated.
Another element that is typical for Whale is the way he carefully revels in the rendering of items of value that might have been the pride of a family. In this portrait, the viewer will no doubt notice the shine and appeal of the pocket watch and gold chain. The lace around the face also plays a role in attracting the eye.
As is common with many of Whale’s backgrounds in portraits, there is not much time spent perfecting an interior. Whale hints at an architectural environment without delving into detail. He uses the background as a foil for the more important subject matter, Annie Digby.
The bright red cloth creates a contrast to the subdued sepia tones and the lightened corner behind her lets her dark hair stand out from the background. The only element of interest in the background is the small vase of flowers and the carefully handled small leaf that has fallen to the table, adding a delicate element of interest.
Please visit Glenhyrst to see this painting, as well as for our upcoming exhibition from the permanent collection, running June 16 until Aug. 19. An opening reception will be held on June 24th from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Marcia Lea is executive director and curator of the Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant.