THE PORTRAIT OF A BOY stands out as being untypical of Annie’s work:
- The gold leaf surround, which is indeed untypical of anyone painting in the same period. I know of no comparable work of this genera treated in the same way.
- The unemotional expression of the child – Annie’s children tend to be more expressive, at least having a bit of a challenging glint in their eye.
- The transparency of the hair in places – one can see the outline of the temple and back of the head, the hair having been painted thinly. Annie normally painted hair with great solidity.
- It is unsigned and undated, unusual for such a fine work, unless this is concealed beneath the frame or even impressed in the gilt (but not visible in the low-resolution images available).
Otherwise the portrait, with rosy cheeks and red lips, is certainly in the style of Annie, especially with her with love of painting ginger hair. She would have been familiar with medieval works where fields of gold were common as backgrounds, but these were religious subjects, and the gold would also usually be impressed with patterns or lettering.
The general style, assuming by Annie, suggests the 1880s or 1890s (my estimate). Her later brush work is more broken and before 1880 there are no comparable pieces, although there is the problem that there are too few works by Annie known to be certain about such things.
Gold leaf was not an expensive material during late Victorian times. The metal is so malleable that very small amounts could be beaten into large, microscopically thin sheets. According to The Art Journal for 1874, one grain (one-four-hundreth of an ounce) of gold could make enough leaf to cover 144 (one gross) buttons.
I’ve no reason to doubt the auction houses’ determination, so it remains ‘an Annie’ on this web site and not an ‘attributed.’
IF THE OWNER of this work happens to read this page, I’d be delighted if they contacted me with any information they have. Even details of the framing, labels or marks on the back could give clues to it’s history. All communications are kept in strictest confidence and no personal information about ownership or location of works in private ownership are displayed on this web site. Jonathan Russell email@example.com.
Sincere thanks to V.B., S.R., H.W. (Manchester) and T.C. (Yale University) for their thoughts and observations on this work.