Thursday 1 January 2015

Seeing The Light

The past year has been an eventful one for the artworks we care for, and also for two paintings that are in other hands.

Autumn Sunlight, Churchville

Preliminary results reached us some time ago concerning the X-ray investigation of Autumn Sunlight, Churchville, carried out at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto. The painting is in the collection of Victoria University in the University of Toronto, and is one of two paintings Bertha M Ingle originally donated to the Perkins Bull Collection, back in the early 1930s. According to the ROM technicians' findings, the paint layers are very thin, which makes it difficult to get clear images of the underlying surfaces, but we were told it was possible to discern some trees that have been over-painted. It seems most likely that the currently visible 'surface' painting is a modification, but perhaps not an extensive one, of an earlier composition.

Bertha M Ingle:
Autumn Sunlight, Churchville
photo by Gillian Pearson - before conservation work
Painting a new image over an existing one has been done by countless artists. When the painter concerned is someone like Van Gogh or Rembrandt, substantial technological and financial resources are generally brought to bear on elucidating what is underneath the surface. Our ambitions are relatively modest. We simply hoped that the careful and highly-skilled conservator engaged by Victoria University, Heidi Sobol, had learned enough from the X-ray images to allow the conservation repairs of Autumn Sunlight, Churchville (where surface paint has become detached) to be planned and executed.

Our impression is that Bertha did not very often re-use canvas or other materials once she had painted something. We think that had she been in that habit, we'd have far fewer pictures that have been left in a partly finished state (of which there are many). Based on discussions found on various web forums (such as this one), to prepare a previously-oil-painted surface takes quite a bit of care and effort, to ensure a successful result in the new painting.

After a wait of quite a few months (workloads are heavy, schedules are crowded, priorities have to be addressed ...), we learned that the conservation work would begin in the summer of 2013. Progress was delayed further when a lot of higher-priority emergency work landed on Heidi's plate as a result of extensive flooding in the Toronto area in early July. But we were happy to be patient.

Early in 2014 we learned that Heidi's work had recently been completed, and the results are deeply satisfying. With cleaning, the colours are clearer and more vibrant. The fragile areas have been successfully stabilized. It is ready to be framed (in its original frame) and displayed, and is 'on the list' for that to happen.

Portrait of Mrs J J Hare

Bertha M Ingle:
Mrs J J Hare
photo by Bill Allen
Our discovery of the large formal portrait of Mrs J J Hare that hangs in the main hall at Trafalgar Castle School (formerly Ontario Ladies' College) in Whitby, Ontario was a highlight of 2013. Mrs Hare was the wife of founding Principal Rev Dr John J Hare, and was for a time Lady Principal of the College. The portrait was presented to the College in June 1924 as part of the 50th Anniversary celebration. But it is unsigned, and in 2013 was unaccompanied by any attribution.

In 2014, Trafalgar Castle School held their 140th Alumnae Reunion, 27 – 29 June. Alumnae, board members, past parents, and former and current Trafalgar staff congregated from far and wide to celebrate. For that occasion, Bertha was, at last, shown as the artist of the portrait, and a short biography based on information we supplied was posted with it.

Exhibiting at The TOM, 18 January - 15 March 2015

In July 2014 my sister and I travelled to Owen Sound, Ontario, where Bertha lived between the ages of 6 and 23. It was there that Bertha first discovered her gift and blossomed as an artist. There were a few places we wanted to see, a few possible leads to pursue, as part of our ongoing research into the Ingle family history.

Bertha M Ingle:
'Pines in Late Winter Light'
It has long been our hope that Bertha's artworks might be exhibited there. We know that Owen Sound has always taken great pride in its formidable artistic heritage, and we felt that Bertha M Ingle should be publicly acknowledged as part of that heritage. To our great delight, Director and Senior Curator Virginia Eichhorn and Exhibitions Coordinator Robert Alton of The Tom Thomson Gallery agreed to meet with us, and enthusiastically supported the idea. Within the same day, Virginia set the dates and selected 14 landscapes. We set about preparing them, having them cleaned where necessary and then framed. The showing will open in their beautiful Counterpoint space in a couple of weeks from time of writing, for a two-month exhibition (18 January - 15 March 2015).

As well, we have contacted Maria Canton (Theatre Manager) and other staff at the Roxy Theatre in Owen Sound, where they have recently celebrated their centenary. Maria has kindly agreed to display, during the same period as the exhibition at The TOM, two of Bertha's portraits that we believe represent theatrical characters in costume, and which may date from the Owen Sound years. They have been the subject of much speculation on our part, about which I shall write more in the near future.

The Artist Herself, 2 May - 9 August 2015

Not long after the close of the exhibition at The TOM, a major exhibition will open at The Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Entitled The Artist Herself: Self-Portraits by Canadian Historical Women Artists, it is described as "a groundbreaking exhibition ... the first to focus on self-portraits by Canadian historical women artists".

Bertha M Ingle:
photo by Mike Lalich
We were honoured and excited when two of Bertha's paintings were selected by co-curators Tobi Bruce (Art Gallery of Hamilton) and Alicia Boutilier (Agnes Etherington Centre) to be part of this show. As described on the Art Centre's web site, it will
"open at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in May 2015 in conjunction with the third Canadian Women Artists History Initiative (CWAHI) conference. The event marks the 40th anniversary of From Women’s Eyes: Women Painters in Canada, a landmark exhibition in the history of Canadian art organized by the Agnes in 1975, International Women’s Year."
After its three-month run at Queen's, The Artist Herself will tour to other locations in Canada, then finish at The Art Gallery of Hamilton in the summer of 2016.

I hope that many readers will take the opportunity to visit the exhibitions and support the fine organizations responsible for them.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for posting this information about Bertha May Ingle. I have just discovered her work and it is absolutely beautiful and I especially appreciate her paintings of children. Hope we get to see more of her work displayed in the near future.