Extract from Cheshire Life, reproduced in Swinnerton Family History – The Journal of the Swinnerton Society, vol. 5, no. 2 (September 1982) www.swinnerton.org:
‘I was wearing a new dress from Liberty’s, my first pair of silk stockings and dancing slippers. Jack, our poodle, was beside me. I can still smell the oil of lavender she used.’ Evelyn Bellhouse was seven when Manchester artist Annie Swynnerton was invited to her parents’ home in Alderley Edge to paint her. The year was 1911 and Mrs. Swynnerton was 67, already well established as an artist of the first order and bracketed with names like Laura Knight. Her husband, the Manx sculptor Joseph Swynnerton, had just died and she had returned from Rome where they had been living. ‘My father invited her to stay with us and I can remember her smoking a cigar. She didn’t finish the painting while she was with us but she took my dress away with her, and the couch I’m sitting on belonged to the artist J. S. Sargent, a friend of hers.’
The following year the painting of Evelyn was exhibited at the Royal Academy and prompted rave reviews. ‘Her child’s portrait Evelyn, daughter of Vernon Bellhouse, Esq. is likely to add greatly to her reputation . The rich and mellow colouring, the wonderful effect of golden light and, above all, the exquisite unearthly expression sometimes seen on the child’s face all combine to make it one of the best pictures of the year,’ wrote the art critic of the Standard. Said the Manchester Guardian: ‘One of the best pieces of face portraiture in the whole exhibition.’ And the Observer: ‘The picture is so original in conception, so firm in construction, so daring in treatment, so uncompromising in its rejection of easy expedients to obtain pretty effects, that it may be said to stand alone among the portraits at Burlington House.’
Vernon Bellhouse’s little girl wasn’t aware of the sensation she had caused. After the exhibition the picture came back to Alderley Edge to be hung at the top of the stairs. But when they moved to a smaller house no wall could accommodate it adequately and it was stacked behind a chest of drawers. ‘I’d had enough of it by then anyway,’ Miss Bellhouse confessed. ‘As you grow older you don’t particularly want to be reminded daily of what you were like as a child.’ Now she has decided to sell the painting and it will be one of the major items at Sotheby’s sale of paintings, drawings, watercolours and prints on October 14.
The art critic of the Observer said of it, ‘The picture is so original in conception, so firm in construction, so daring in treatment, so uncompromising in its rejection of easy expedients to obtain pretty effects, that it may be said to stand alone among the portraits in Burlington House.‘ (Source: www.swinnerton.org, with thanks to Alastair Swinnerton.)
“I was wearing a new dress from Liberty’s, my first pair of silk stockings and dancing slippers. Jack, our poodle, was beside me. I can still smell the oil of lavander she used.” Evelyn Bellhouse was seven … She was a splendid old lady and told me the most fascinating stories, hence my wide-eyed stare. The legs, I swear, are not mine but some model’s in Rome … They are not a child’s legs and I was skinny.”Lot description in Sotheby’s catalogue.
- Media: oil on canvas.
- Dimensions: 1015 x 865 mm (0.88 m²).
- History: signed and dated 1911; exhibited Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 1912; thereafter in possession of subject at family home, Alderley Edge; auctioned Sotheby’s, London, 21 Jun 1983, sold.
- Location: Unknown.