Saturday, 9 June 2012

Art Detectives Assemble!

As you will know from reading my ramblings, I am married to the inestimable Mr Walker, who works at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth.  While we were perusing the PCF catalogue of the collection one evening, my eyes alighted on the following picture...

Reclining Woman With a Fan

'Ooooooh!  That's lovely!' I exclaimed enthusiastically, but then, horror of horror, I saw the dread words 'Unknown Artist'.  It isn't signed and there is no hint in the records as to who painted her.  At that moment I sounded the Art Detective alarm and gathered you all...

So, what do we have?  The date range given is 1880 to 1910, mainly due to the style of clothing and the vaguely aesthetic nature of the composition, however I would be willing to dip back to 1860-70, because if you're after a woman in white clutching a fan, I have a bucketful...

Woman With a Fan (1870) D G Rossetti

Part of my love of the Unknown Woman is that when I see fans I think of Fanny and all those glorious 1860s images of her.  It immediately infuses the image with luxury and richness and a little superior debauchedness, like this one...

Monna Vanna (1865) D G Rossetti
It's not out of the question that it is a later picture, like this one for example...

The Feather Fan William Strang
However, her white, billowy frock does seat her comfortably around 1880-90, nice and aesthetic, although I wouldn't rule out Edwardian.  I love the folds of delicate material, the drapery on the chair complimenting the stripes on her sleeves.  She is without a frame, so is not on display, but if more could be found out about her, then possibly she could be displayed as it is a cracking picture in good condition.  I have a slight weakness for her as she looks a bit like I used to when I was young, unlike the raddled heap I am today.

So, thinking caps on, my friends, and feel free to shout suggestions at me.  If you feel adventurous and would like to see the reclining lady in person, apply to Mr Walker at The Russell-Cotes and he'll arrange an appointment.

Also, if you are in Bournemouth on Sunday 10th June (tomorrow), you can hear Mr Walker talk at the Russell-Cotes at 11am and 2pm as part of their 'Behind the Scenes with the Curator' talks.  There are details on the website.

I'm off to do the final proof read of Stunner 2.0 and will bring you news soon!


  1. Alas, I don't have a good answer for you, except by mentioning who I am sure it isn't, which I have confidence your Curator sweetie can also do. Aspects of it remind me of Leighton, and in particular earlier Watts paintings done in Italy, but the technicals themselves aren't quite good enough to be either of those, in my opinion (the landscape is very unfinished, and I find the red drapery to be somewhat awkward).

    I will make a comment on the costume, though. I agree that there are plenty 'Women in White' dresses in Aesthetic painting, but wearing white went beyond Aestheticism, particularly for summer activities. This dress for me is not very Aesthetic, I don't think we can get trapped by the white froth of it - look at the shape. That waist is corseted, and you can make out a corset shape under her torso. She is not however, wearing a large crinoline or bustle (there may be light petticoats, or perhaps just layers of starched muslin giving the skirt some fullness). I would place it after 1890 for that reason, but I could be convinced it was earlier, especially looking at her hair style.

    However, what is interesting is the little exotic waistcoat (vest) she wears. It has a bit of gypsy to it, and could perhaps signify Spanish, Italian, or even Greek. Her diaphanous sleeve, too, trimmed in gold is very interesting. The artist has also shown us a touch of her sash on her knee, and she wears a small tiara as well.

    Is this a portrait of an English lady on holiday? Is it meant to be a more exotic woman whose dress has been Anglicised? I would hesitate to call this Aesthetic Dress, either way, but it is certainly a bit of a costume picture.

    That probably isn't helpful at all!

  2. Frederic Leighton?

  3. Frederic Leighton?

  4. Well, I give up trying to get the word Frederic and the word Leighton to squeeze themselves together. But you know what I mean. I think the face is the same.

  5. I agree, and did look at the Leighton Lady, but the background is a bit sketchy. Having given it a good browsing after digging the garden, John Lorimer is my current favourite, which would make it Edwardian, bowing to Robyn's knowledge of dress above...

    Thanks for the comments, fellow detectives! I'm just trying to work out what shape the light I shine into the sky to assemble us all should be (in the manner of the bat signal...)

  6. I'm not an art historian, and don't have much to add - it looks ~1890 to me, and I agree there's something of the Middle East about it, though whether it's actual setting or just influence, I can't guess.
    However, I want to say, what a beautiful painting!!!! And thank you for giving the world an opportunity to see it.

  7. White gauzy sheer fabrics, contrasting waist-band and lace say 1900s.
    Corsetry doesn't look like an S-bend corset, although she does not appear to be reclining particularly naturally.
    Hair looks very Edwardian - it's piled up on her head and lacks a centre parting.
    Bolero jacket with gauzy attached sleeves says Edwardian, too.
    The cap sleeves are odd, as is the neck-line - it almost makes me think of an under-dress. She certainly looks coy, and she's got the neck undone on her dress.
    The landscape is a bit vague, but the waistcoat looks exotic, and the huge fan indicates she's somewhere rather warm, as does the lack of heavy over-layers and short sleeves on her dress. I think there is a warmer-climate connection. The red fabric might be draped in some kind of awning/shade, too. I'm thinking maybe she's somewhere out in the warmer parts of the Empire. The landscape's place in the composition looks like it ought to be an important element in the image, but other than the lovely sky, it's a bit... unfinished looking and I really can't figure out what sort of place it's supposed to be.

  8. I'm no expert either, but to me, the sleeves aren't puffed enough to be 1890 and the hair is more 1880 than Edwardian. Edwardian hair is usually piled on top but also as a kind of "crown" all over the hairline.

    Also, the waistcoat reminds me of a romantic/regionalish style of early 19th century Spain. But that might have nothing to do with this... but it's sure it adds exotism.

    This is only my opinion! Hope you find out more about the painting!

  9. Interesting, Stylishly there are similarities between The Lady of Shallot by Sydney Meteyard and Lady in a yellow dress by Emma Sandys. Possibly late works because of the sketchy background?

  10. Thank you everyone for your suggestions. I'll keep you updated if any further information comes to light!

  11. I thought the following article about them starting to use facial recognition technology to identify unknown models is interesting - possibly might help to find the artist as well in some cases.
    We go to Bournemouth for a few days every summer (wonderful beach!). I didn't know it even had an art gallery let alone one presided over by the famous Mr Walker. I can't wait to visit in August...


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx