Antiques Magazine - September 2017, Reading the signs - ANTIQUES.CO.UK

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    Reading the signs

    Posted by John Stocks on 04/09/2017

    Reading the signs

    When purchasing art we often buy because we like the subject matter or style of the piece. This is of course a great reason to purchase, but often we don’t look further than aesthetics and this can mean we miss clues from the artist as to the real meaning to the artwork, which can completely change the way we look it.

    Take for instance this painting I recently purchased by Ethel Wright, ROI. It isn’t my usual style but I saw it, loved it and brought it home to show my wife. She said ‘Fantastic picture and such interesting content’. I replied agreeing and commenting on how the white camellia sets off the fabulous black coat. She looked at me oddly. I got the sense I had missed something. ‘I think you are misreading this as the white camellia is something entirely different’. As you can guess I had no idea what she was talking about. ‘What could that be I said?’. The reply; ‘It’s obvious, she’s a suffragette!’.


    And of course, the penny dropped.


    The painting instantly took on a new meaning. No longer was this lady posing for a portrait with a beautiful flower on her lapel to enhance her outfit, she was suddenly a revolutionary, proudly wearing the flower as a symbol of her cause. The power of Google confirmed her as Mrs Gabrielle Enthoven, an English playwright, amateur actress and theatre archivist who had strong ties to the suffragette movement.


    This incident brought it home very firmly how important it is to read the signs and symbols in art, no matter how unimportant they may seem. I’ve learnt my lesson and there is no way my wife is going to let us part with the portrait any time soon. Mrs Enthoven by Ethel Wright ROI. Exhibited at RA 1912

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