Image: Royal Academy Illustrated, 1927.

In Gallery IX., ‘Bessie, wife of Colonel Massy’ (502), by Annie L. Swynnerton, is supposed to be singing ‘Oh for the touch of a vanished hand,’ to her own accompaniment. The artist needs to be reminded that while curved lines are all very well in the case of a lady’s robe, perfectly straight ones are indispensable when depicting the keys of a pianoforte.

The Musical Times, 1 Jun 1927.

The song referred to is an arrangement of the 1842 Tennyson poem, Break, break, break:

Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break,
At the foot of thy crags, O sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me

There is a sung version by Bettina and Matthias Wenthe of Cowhouse Project here: https://youtu.be/xSc8yp_Mb6M.

As the sitter is otherwise unidentified, it is uncertain whether the correct spelling is Massy or Massey, but the former is the more likely.

  • Media: oil on canvas (presumed).
  • Dimensions: unknown.
  • History: illustrated in Royal Academy Illustrated, 1927, “Known … from a review of the exhibition at the Royal Acadamy by Arthur T. Froggatt in the Musical Times, June 1st 1927,“* and referred to as “a very fine portrait of a woman at a piano” in The Illustrated London News, 7 May 1927, p832.
  • Location: unknown.

* Information from Alastair Swinnerton, and thanks to Grant Waters for the Royal Academy Illustrated image.