Historically portraiture has typically been concerned with
recording resemblances of the great and the good, or those wealthy
enough to commission a likeness. This exhibition focuses on a much
humbler form of portraiture, where the sitters are the artists'
intimates - their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives,
lovers, children, friends or indeed selves.
The close nature of these relationships is often reflected in
the paintings. Toss Woollaston reflected in his autobiography that
in the early years of his marriage 'I drew and drew Edith in the
evenings, mostly asleep in her chair after the rigours of our
primitive days.' Throughout his career he made many portraits of
Edith - as muse, wife, companion and a mother - frequently
engrossed in other activities as her husband paints.
The tensions of having an artist in the family and the demands
of having to model for them is humorously captured by the British
artist, John Bratby, in the drawing entitled "When are you
going to stop drawing Dad?", in which his bored son stares
into space. Harold Gilman's painting Mother and Child,
despite the generic title records an intensely personal moment from
his family life, portraying his wife Sylvia breastfeeding their son
The exhibition also includes one of the Gallery's latest
acquisitions, Rita Angus's Mother and Child, 1942. The
watercolour of her sister, Jean Jones, with baby son Anton, draws
on the associations of such maternal imagery with portrayals of the
Madonna and Child. As Ron Brownson observes though, it is also an
eloquent image of familial happiness and hope during wartime.
These portraits give insights into the artists' lives, not only
recording those with whom they were intimate, but also reflecting
this in their portrayals.