An­thony Smith ex­plains how he came to ap­pre­ci­ate por­traits from the 18th and 19th cen­turies and the sto­ries be­hind them

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - An­thony Smith di­rec­tor of in­ter­na­tional art deal­ers ART­SMITH

An­thony casts his ex­pert eye over a new topic

Acon­fes­sion; I re­ally don’t like all art­works. Some leave me cold, while oth­ers I sim­ply can’t un­der­stand or come to terms with.

One area that was part of this group for me was 18th cen­tury por­trai­ture. It sim­ply dis­in­ter­ested me; so much so that I by­passed it when­ever I was in a pub­lic gallery.

How­ever a few years back, my wife was speak­ing about a por­trait she saw in the Na­tional Gallery that caused me to com­pletely re­think my bias. Mau­reen was dis­cussing not just the paint­ing it­self, but more the de­tails re­gard­ing the sit­ter and her life. I had never even taken the time to read the de­scrip­tions, a shame­ful ad­mis­sion I know.

Our dis­cus­sion led me to view the work and oth­ers as soon as I could. On re­turn­ing to the gallery, I spent time just read­ing about the sit­ters’ lives as much as look­ing at the art.

In some cases, these were amaz­ingly rich and in­ter­est­ing lives, whilst in other cases they were lives of priv­i­lege and com­fort and for oth­ers, sadly not.

The beauty of some of the sit­ters stood out, their per­fect skin and dress was sim­ply stun­ning. But it was the lives of these peo­ple, their so­cial stand­ing, po­si­tion and sto­ries that touched me more and fas­ci­nated me.

I looked at each por­trait with keen in­ter­est, not just ar­tis­ti­cally, but in terms of so­cial his­tory. Each por­trait pulled me deeper and deeper into their world.

Then my in­ter­est was sparked in 19th cen­tury por­trai­ture, so much so that my now fre­quent vis­its to the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery al­low me to ‘visit’ my great, great, great grand­fa­ther reg­u­larly, a visit I look for­ward to as he re­minds me so much of my mother.

My fas­ci­na­tion was fur­ther sparked when I viewed por­traits of peo­ple who we know noth­ing about, in some cases highly com­pe­tent works where even the artist is un­known. I would never defini­tively know about them, but my imag­i­na­tion ran wild when I imag­ined their per­son­al­ity, the fam­ily and the so­cial set­ting that these ‘anony­mous’ sit­ters re­garded as their every­day… their world.

There is a lovely por­trait that falls into this cat­e­gory here in the Nor­wich Cas­tle col­lec­tion sim­ply ti­tled Mrs Turner.

Here we meet Mrs Turner, a mid­dle-aged woman, one who has wealth as ev­i­denced by the fact she has had her por­trait painted and by the pearl neck­lace and or­na­men­tal drop ear­rings. Nei­ther would we ex­pect to see on a woman with­out some wealth and po­si­tion. She was also quite plump as ev­i­denced by her dou­ble chin and full cheeks, so she ate well!

She does not have a clas­si­cally beau­ti­ful face, but rather a face show­ing her years and life. But it’s her eyes that cap­ture me, slightly tired but kind. We re­ally don’t know any­thing about her, but she looks out at us from across two cen­turies and we are touched by a cer­tain hu­man­ity in this work. This, for me, is the magic in these por­traits… in all por­traits.

This month do visit Nor­wich Cas­tle for ‘Vik­ing. Redis­cover the leg­end’ open­ing on Fe­bru­ary 7. This prom­ises to be a fab­u­lous ex­hi­bi­tion with works from the Bri­tish Mu­seum and York Mu­seum’s Trust. [email protected]

‘It’s her eyes that cap­ture me: slightly tired but kind. We re­ally don’t know any­thing about her, but she looks out at us from across two cen­turies and we are touched by a cer­tain hu­man­ity in this work’

Im­age cour­tesy of Norfolk Mu­se­ums Ser­vice

Mrs Turner

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