Huntington Buys Portraits by J.S. Copley, Madeline Green

John Singleton Copley, Mrs. Mary Robinson in the Character of a Nun, about 1780. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

The Huntington's Art Collectors' Council alternates between buying European and American art for the collection. This year's Council, delayed from its usual spring meeting, bought British portraits, one by American ex-pat John Singleton CopleyMrs. Mary Robinson in the Character of a Nun (about 1780) shows a famous stage actor (and feminist/author/royal mistress) who was also painted by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Romney and Hoppner. Robinson is shown in the role of Oriana in George Farquhar's stage comedy The Inconstant. The coquettish expression and lap-held crucifix were hardly to be taken as pious.

Despite its famous sitter and artist, the portrait's history was so thoroughly forgotten that it was assigned to the French school at a 1999 sale. Re-identified as a Copley, the painting was offered by dealer Ben Elwes at last year's London Art Week. Mrs. Mary Robinson dates from early in Copley's London career and is to be shown in the Huntington Gallery. It joins an American portrait and oil sketch by Copley in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries, and a British portrait, The Western Boys, bought by Henry Huntington. The Library holds manuscripts and published works by Robinson.

Edward Burne-Jones, Portrait of Margaret Mackail, the Artist's Daughter, about 1888. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

Hannah and Russel Kully have purchased Edward Burne-Jones' Portrait of Margaret Mackail, the Artist's Daughter (about 1888) as a promised gift. Never exhibited or published, it will become the first oil painting by a Pre-Raphaelite in the Huntington collection. A large finished watercolor by the artist, The Nativity, was acquired in 2018. 

Alice Mary Chamber, Portrait of a Young Woman, about 1880s. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

The Huntington has few works by woman artists. This year the Collectors' Council has added two. Alice Mary Chambers (1855-1920), a contemporary of the Pre-Raphaelites, signed her works with a monogram (modeled after Dante Gabriel Rossetti's) that was inscrutable until recent scholarship revealed her name and colorful biography. The Council bought a finished red chalk portrait by the artist, identified by the monogram at lower left.  

Madeline Green, Miss Brown, 1937. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

If Pre-Raphaelites are too sweet for your taste, there's a tart self-portrait by Madeline Green (1884-1947). Miss Brown stares at the viewer with a shell-shocked expression that could be 2020 as well as 1937. She's in the costume of a British fruit and vegetable seller. Green often depicted herself and her sister in the guise of another profession, class, or gender, linking her to later artists such as Claude Cahun and Gillian Wearing. Among Green's champions was Joseph Duveen, the dealer who sold so many grand manner portraits to Huntington, Frick, and Mellon. Duveen apparently saw Green as the future of British art—in fact, he donated one of her paintings, titled The Future, to Manchester Art Gallery. Despite Duveen's support, Green's reputation did not survive her death and has only recently been revived. Formerly in a Swiss private collection, Miss Brown was auctioned for a modest £6875 at Bonhams in 2017. A small Green retrospective opened this February at London's Gunnersbury Park and Museum. At the Huntington Miss Brown builds on three early 20th-century British paintings purchased by the Collectors' Council in 2016. 

This year's acquisitions also include a set of 50 prints by American-born R.B. Kitaj. Made in London, they reproduce covers of books Kitaj collected from libraries and thrift shops.

R.B. Kitaj, In Our Time: Covers for a Small Library After the Life for the Most Part, 1969-70. Photo: Ella Andersson, LA Louver, (c) R.B. Kitaj Estate


Anonymous said…
> shows a famous stage actor (and feminist/author/royal mistress)

Don't know why the word "actor" is preferred by various people, including, well, females in the acting profession. I saw an actress interviewed awhile ago and she said "actress" somehow made women in the acting profession sound less serious or well grounded.

Certain nouns modified to reflect gender such as "benefactress" or "patroness" do come off as nonsensical. But I don't think "actress" is the same way.

Sort of the flip side of that is "nurse," which doesn't have a masculine or feminine form. Maybe it should. After all, for most people that word automatically conjures the image of a woman. "Murse" for male nurses has been coined by some folks in the medical profession. LOL.

> If Pre-Raphaelites are too sweet for your taste,
> there's a tart self-portrait by Madeline Green (1884-1947)

I prefer the latter to the former. I'm guessing a Pre-Raphaelite-type style will be a common part of what's displayed in the Lucas Museum. Which is fine. Different strokes for different folks. Anything is better than a Govan/Zumthor debacle.
Anonymous said…
I thought a "murse" was a purse for men...