Thursday, 19 December 2013

Gunships Aren't Roses

Bertha M Ingle: Ships at harbour
There’s a painting of Bertha’s that we believe we have come to understand better in recent months. It’s a small sketch in oils that shows ships at harbour. It has an unsettled and unsettling quality, its ambience anything but calm.

Bertha grew up in Owen Sound, an important port city, and lived most of her adult life in Toronto. She travelled to Vancouver and to Santa Monica. She would have seen harbours and ships in many places. We’ve never been certain where this painting comes from. But perhaps it can be pinned down after all.
Bertha M Ingle: Roses

F McGillivray Knowles:
In Time of Peace, 1907
Bertha’s most influential teacher in Toronto was Farquhar McGillivray Knowles, a prominent artist and member of Toronto Society. Bertha studied at and became an Associate of his Studio, soon after arriving in Toronto, and at various times she taught Art at places where he was Art Director, such as the Westbourne School for Girls and the Ontario Ladies’ College. As an artist of considerable renown, McGillivray Knowles was (and still is) well known for his interest and skills in representing ships and marine subjects generally. An example is a large oil painting called In Time of Peace, 1907.  It depicts battleships at harbour. The painting was exhibited in the 36th Annual Exhibition of the Ontario Society Of Artists (OSA) in February - March 1908, from which it was purchased by the Government of Ontario, in whose hands it still resides. According to the book The Ontario Collection by Fern Bayer, a published review of that Exhibition indicated the locale of In Time of Peace to be Quebec City.

F McGillivray Knowles:
HMS Indomitable Leaving Quebec
There’s another somewhat similar painting by McGillivray Knowles, not quite as easy to find on-line, called HMS Indomitable leaving Quebec. This one was reproduced in Maclean’s Magazine of September 1913 as part of an article about Mr and Mrs Knowles and their Bloor Street West Studio  -  an article kindly located for us by James F S Thomson, at the time we were taking his excellent course at the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies (Toronto's Past: Your City, Your House, Your Family).

There are points of similarity between this Quebec painting and Bertha’s sketch, we feel, such as the shape of the distant hills and the general composition. They have caused us to wonder whether Bertha’s painting might also come from Quebec. We know she visited there at least once, as a member of a group of artists who were all painting and seeking commissions.

Just when was HMS Indomitable in Quebec, and why? Exploring the answers to these questions has opened up new possibilities in our speculations about Bertha’s travels. Most notably, HMS Indomitable made a voyage to Quebec in July 1908, when she was brand new. She was commissioned for the trip in June 1908 ("before she was fully complete", according to the Wikipedia article). It was for a very special occasion indeed, and she carried a very special passenger. She brought no less a personage than the Prince of Wales (who in 1911 would become King George V) to participate in the tercentenary celebration of Champlain's founding of Quebec in 1608. The Prince was greeted by thousands of spectators in addition to the formal welcoming party, when Indomitable steamed into the harbour on the afternoon of 22 July.

This celebration was no intimate gathering, but a multi-national gala on the grandest scale, an event unsurpassed in Canada till Montreal’s Expo 67. England, France, and the United States of America each had a major presence, and collectively they filled the St Lawrence River below the City with an impressive array of warships and other craft. The elaborate celebrations on land lasted two weeks, and included a large-scale fully-costumed multi-act Pageant on land and water, comprising re-enactments of Champlain’s arrival, key battles, and other notable events. People thronged to Quebec in their thousands to see the spectacles. The three visiting nations, former adversaries, somehow were able to collaborate and join forces to honour the tricentennial in the most spectacular possible way. It was an organizational and political tour de force, yet one which is little remembered in the annals of this country's history. It is recalled and described in detail in the fascinating book by H V Nelles, The Art of Nation-building: Pageantry and Spectacle at Quebec's Tercentenary.

Nelles writes that about a half-dozen Canadian painters were officially invited to come and record their impressions of the events. Mr McGillivray Knowles might well have been one of them, and it would have been especially fitting, since his mother had been born in Quebec. HMS Indomitable sailed for home at first light on the morning of 29 July, after a week in port, returning the Prince of Wales to England. It was that departure that Knowles captured in his painting.

Postmark on Bertha's postcard
Did Bertha paint her oil sketch at Quebec, at about that same time? We have long believed that she went to Quebec in the summer of 1907. Might she also have accompanied McGillivray Knowles and others the following year, to attend this extravaganza of a lifetime? Might we be mistaken about 1907? We reviewed the evidence. Apart from family oral tradition, there is just one dated document, a postcard with a photo of the Champlain Market, sent by Bertha from Quebec to her family in Toronto. It says nothing of celebrations, but it does clearly establish that she was there with a group of artists who were trying to find work. The postmark date is 22 July, and the writing includes the word ‘Monday’ as a sort of marginal note. The postmark year is very faint and indistinct, unfortunately. It does look most like ’07, and 22 July 1907 was indeed a Monday.

Is it possible the card was sent in 1908? The date 22 July 1908 was a Wednesday (and the very day of the arrival of the Prince of Wales). We think it unlikely that Bertha would wait two days, to post a card on Wednesday that she had written on Monday, but it’s not impossible. And, tantalizingly, there are spots of paint on the card that look as if they might be the same as colours in the oil sketch.

Postmark from 1907 found on-line
I decided to try searching the web for images of 1907 Quebec postmarks, and somewhat to my surprise I found quite a few. Those that most closely resemble the one on Bertha’s postcard strengthened the conclusion that the card was from 1907, because the faint impression of what should be the downstroke of the ‘7' is in exactly the right place. We wondered if another source of corroboration might come from the Toronto address to which the card was mailed, which was on Euclid Avenue. From the City of Toronto Directories (which were published in January of each year), we determined that the Ingles were living at Trinity Square at the start of 1907, but at Euclid Avenue by the start of 1908. A different postcard, mailed home by Bertha’s sister Ettie, confirms that they were there on 5 August 1907. So the address doesn’t really settle the issue conclusively; neither year can be ruled out on that basis.

I feel 1907 is the more likely date for our Quebec postcard. Bertha may have been there in 1908 as well. The two McGillivray Knowles paintings would appear to confirm that there were battleships present in both years. Whichever year it was, I believe that the sight disturbed her greatly, that she did not see in those massive objects the majestic display of military might; she saw, instead, forces of destruction and chaos. Her little sketch, I believe, expresses her revulsion, even anger.

One of the main events of the tercentenary celebration was a formal presentation on The Plains of Abraham. A huge gathering of militiamen and sailors from all the participating countries were assembled, as many as fifteen thousand altogether. They watched the Prince of Wales present the title deed to Governor-General Earl Grey, along with a large sum of money contributed to by all four countries and the Empire, with the express intent that the Plains be designated forever a 'shrine of union and peace' where 'two contending races won equal and imperishable glory'.

Bertha M Ingle: The Plains of Abraham
Bertha painted another picture that in family oral tradition depicts The Plains of Abraham. If this is true, it may also reveal something of her view of the mechanisms of combat, though in a very different way than the painting of the battleships. There is something that could be a cannon lying derelict and abandoned, off to one side, while domestic life, washing hanging out to dry in ordinary back yards, has claimed the main ground, upstage centre. A far less ostentatious way to portray union and peace, but telling nonetheless.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Trafalgar Treasure

As I mentioned in an earlier entry (On Location), our Research Assistant and I recently paid a visit to Trafalgar Castle School in Whitby, Ontario. That's one of several places where Bertha May Ingle taught Art, first in 1908 - 1909, and again in 1922 - 1927. It was called Ontario Ladies' College (OLC) in those years.

Our RA came armed with camera and scanner. Before we began to pore over the School's Archives, we were treated to a delightful tour of the entire School, and she was permitted to photograph quite a few of the many fine paintings that hang on the walls throughout the building. There are plenty of portraits, of course, depicting luminaries from the School's long history; there are also a variety of paintings executed by and/or donated by alumnae and former teachers.

Main Hallway, Trafalgar Castle School
One large portrait in the main hallway seemed likely to defy all efforts to get a good image, from directly in front of it. Our RA recalls seeing surface cracks in the varnish, and unevenness over the height of the canvas, as if it was perhaps not firmly mounted. In this photo of the Main Hallway, that portrait is visible, from an extreme angle, on the left. It was very lucky that she took this photo, because when my sister saw it, she realized right away, despite the odd angle, that it resembles a much smaller painting of Bertha's that we have in our collection.

Here is that smaller painting. We immediately realized that it might be a preliminary study for the larger portrait, which would mean Bertha almost certainly painted both of them. We had never identified the distinguished woman portrayed in our version, but now we had the connection we needed. The portrait opposite in the School Hallway (there's a glimpse of it in the photo above) is identified as that of Rev Dr John James Hare, founding Principal of Ontario Ladies' College in 1874, a position he held until 1915. Could the woman be Mrs Hare, who was herself Lady Principal at one time?

Mrs J J Hare; Dr and Mrs Hare
(Whitby Online Historical
Photographs Collection)
Happily, there is a good photo of Mrs Hare on-line, in the Whitby Online Historical Photographs Collection collection. The resemblance is clear and unmistakeable. The same site has their wedding photo, taken when she was just 20.

Could we confirm with certainty that the large portrait was painted by Bertha? The answer came in an unexpected and serendipitous way. I was at the North York Library's Canadiana Collection, and decided to have a look at the 1924 Ontario Ladies' College yearbook, a volume we'd seen before but hadn't had enough time to peruse. It's special, because that year marked the 50th anniversary of the College. As I browsed, a reference to presentation of a painting caught my eye, in a description of the events of Alma Mater Day in June 1924. And then, a little further down the same page came this gratifying revelation:

"Miss Burkholder unveiled a remarkable portrait of Mrs. Hare, executed by Miss Ingle, the present Art instructor, on behalf of the Ottawa Chapter of the Trafalgar Daughters.  This portrait, declared to be a speaking likeness, will hang opposite to that of Dr. Hare, in the Main Hall."

'Miss Burkholder' was Miss Nettie Burkholder, who served as Lady Principal at OLC from 1901 to 1912 (including Bertha's first year there). She had subsequently moved to Alberta, and she returned as a special guest for the Jubilee celebration of 1924.

We still didn't know what the large portrait looked like, in detail. But fortunately our friend Bill Allen was planning a visit to Trafalgar Castle School himself. Bill is on a quest to track down and photograph as many paintings by Whitby native Florence Helena McGillivray as he can, and the School has three of them that he hadn't yet seen. He very kindly promised to photograph Mrs Hare for us, while he was there.

Bertha M Ingle:
Mrs J J Hare
Meanwhile, we took our small painting to the conservator and framer, very much wanting it to be presented it in its best light, wanting it to be something that could be exhibited. Cleaned and framed, it glows with new life. 

Bertha M Ingle:
Mrs J J Hare
(photo by Bill Allen)
Bill's visit happened in November, and the photograph arrived by email from him the following day. With his camera and tripod and lights, he can get a much more professional result than we 'snap-shotters' can. Here she is, a most impressive and pleasing portrait.

It's fascinating to compare the two, and doing so raises further questions. In our version, Mrs Hare is portrayed at a distinctly more advanced age than in the larger one. Although the poses are identical, we feel that the age difference casts doubt on the notion that it was simply a study for the large one, and was done at the same time.

Mrs Hare, née Katherine Isabella McDowell, was born in 1854. She married Dr Hare in 1874, the same year Ontario Ladies' College was founded. She is mentioned as being Lady Principal in 1894, and may have held that title in later years as well. When Bertha first taught at the College in 1908 - 1909, Mrs Hare was about 54, an age that seems very much consistent with the small portrait. We have come to believe (without any further evidence, as yet) that Bertha painted the small portrait during that year, perhaps from life.

The wording of the 1924 yearbook passage quoted above suggests to us that it was probably Miss Burkholder who had the idea, in 1923 or 1924, of having Bertha paint a larger portrait to commemorate Mrs Hare, who had died in 1922. By then the portrait of Rev Dr Hare had already been on display for several years. Brian Winter, formerly Archivist at the Whitby Archives, wrote in his History of the College:

"Commencement Day 1906 saw the presentation to the Board of Directors of an oil painting of Dr. Hare by a former student who was then assistant art director.  It now hangs in the main hall opposite a picture of Mrs. Hare presented at a later date."

Until recently, we weren't sure from that rather ambiguous passage whether the 'former student who was then assistant art director' (whom we felt was undoubtedly Florence Helena McGillivray) had simply presented the painting to the Board, or had actually painted it as well. Bill Allen has confirmed that it was indeed painted by Florence. It bears her signature, he says, though the signature appears to have been overpainted, and can be seen only by shining light on it at a suitable angle.

The painting of Dr Hare shows a man not yet very grey. It would make sense for Bertha, creating a companion portrait in 1923 or 1924, to alter her earlier composition so that Mrs Hare would be portrayed as she would have appeared at the time depicted in her husband's portrait. Perhaps Nettie Burkholder had a suitable photo of Mrs Hare at a younger age, for Bertha to work from.

We're extremely happy that both versions have survived. As ambitious and finely executed as the large portrait is, the small study has qualities that make it, in some ways, the more satisfying of the two. Mrs Hare appears more relaxed, more approachable. The impression is of a more spontaneous and friendly encounter.

There remain many portraits by Bertha May Ingle where we have not identified her subject. Many decades after she created them, identification will likely remain beyond our grasp for most. But it can happen, so we remain hopeful. The occasional happy discovery such as this one delights us all the more, and fuels our resolve to keep looking.