Dacre’s ‘Portrait of Lydia Becker’ dated to 1885 / ‘Biographic snippets’

S. Isabel Dacre’s Portrait of Lydia Becker, previously dated c.1885-c.1890, can be arguably dated to 1885, having being exhibited at the ‘Manchester Academy’ in February 1886 (The Manchester Weekly Times, 27 Feb 1886). As other exhibits would normally be receiving their first showing soon after completion.

Oil paint, especially dark colours, takes weeks or even months to ‘dry,’ after which a varnish is often applied which also takes some time to fix. Technically oil paint does not ‘dry,’ it oxidises and hardens. This allows artists to finely hone their works before the image became fixed. Even then, oil solvent can be applied and areas reworked.

This all assumes the newspaper is referring to the same painting now held by Manchester Art Gallery. The article gives the work great praise, commenting on the delicate tones and general emotional quality, not just being a technically good both otherwise uninvolving portrait. Having a science background, I tend to look for 100% certainty in such matters, which there rarely is, but in the context I’m happy it is the same work.

I’m working on reintroducing the ‘Biographical snippets’ section – contemporeanous accounts of Annie and her circle from newspapers of the day, their personal writings and other sources. A link will eventually appear on the top bar. It’s a slow task and I won’t make any more announcements about it, but any significant findings, e.g. the dating evidence above, will appear in these posts, so there may well be a little flurry of them over the coming weeks.

Jonathan Russell