Overlooked No More: Phyllis Dodd’s portrait of Cathy Honeyman

Oil on canvas, Portrait of Cathy Honeyman, 1951, by Phyllis Dodd, acquired by Glasgow Museums in 2018 with an NFA grant of £1,250.

At Glasgow Museums we are delighted to have been able to acquire this beautifully introspective and evocative portrait of Cathy Honeyman by Phyllis Dodd. The portrait, which until now has been in family hands, highlights what it meant to be a woman in mid-20th century Britain and, more specifically, Glasgow.

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Phyllis Dodd (1899-1995) was active as an artist in the city for 50 years, developing and maintaining a successful portrait practice. She moved there in 1945 when her husband, Scottish artist Douglas Percy Bliss (1900-1984), was appointed Director of Glasgow School of Art.

Victoria Catherine (‘Cathy’ or ‘Cath’) Honeyman, née Burnett, a gifted pianist who could have had a professional musical career were it not for domestic obligations, was the wife of Dr T J (‘Tom’) Honeyman, arguably Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museums’ most influential and charismatic director. She played duets during intervals in the theatrical performances her husband organised which were, in the words of an unpublished family memoir, ‘pioneering in a new form of interlude music’. Women have frequently been written out of history and this portrait provides a fascinating insight into the lives of two women, eclipsed by more public-facing husbands, who had to balance, and indeed sacrifice, their own careers to meet the demands of family and societal expectations.

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Until now very little has been known about Cathy Honeyman, her husband being viewed in isolation. This painting has already provided invaluable impetus for research, including renewed contact with the Honeyman family and insight into the wider family through archival material, including Cathy’s diaries which simply and eloquently shed light on what it was like to be a middle class woman in 1950s Glasgow. Entries include health and beauty hints, exercise and weight charts, life expectancy tables for females, favourite recipes, postal information and cleaning tips. Advice includes: ‘To remove freckles use a dash of hydrogen peroxide’, ‘Eat slowly, chew properly, and you will not overeat or have indigestion’; and ‘cultivate cheerfulness’. Cathy’s 1951 diary documents regular trips to Scottish seaside resorts Rothesay and Millport and visits to London, Capri, Pompeii, Rome, Florence and Venice as well as regular attendance at theatres, art galleries and cultural events and hosting prominent figures like Kenneth Clark. The diary also documents that she sat to Dodd intensively between 16 and 21 February 1951. It evidences a blossoming friendship between the two women which no doubt aided the insightful and sensitive nature of this portrait. The portrait was commissioned in the year that her husband made a prestigious visit to America, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, and painted when he was negotiating the high profile and extremely controversial acquisition of Salvador Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross for Glasgow Museums. The contrast says much about male and female spheres at the time.

Dr Joanna Meacock
Curator of British Art
Glasgow Museums

https://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums

 

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