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 She played duets during intervals in the theatrical performances her husband organised which were, in the words of an unpublished family memoir, ‘pioneering in a new form of interlude music’.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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By the Light of the Moon

Oil on canvas, Moon, 2014, by Alison Watt, acquired by the City Art Centre (City of Edinburgh Museums & Galleries) in 2017 with an NFA grant of £9,500.

Earlier this year the City Art Centre in Edinburgh acquired a new painting by contemporary artist Alison Watt to add to its Scottish Art collection. Numbering over 4,800 artworks in a variety of media, this collection traces the development of art in Scotland from the 17th century to the present day. The acquisition of contemporary works is a key part of our collecting policy, ensuring that the collection continues to provide a comprehensive overview of Scottish art for future generations.

Alison Watt was born in Greenock in 1965 and studied at Glasgow School of Art during the 1980s. She first came to public attention in 1987 when she won the National Portrait Gallery’s prestigious annual Portrait Award. During the early part of her career, Watt concentrated on the human form, painting both portraits and female nudes. However, in the late 1990s she began to produce highly detailed depictions of fabric and drapery which reference the work of 18th and 19th century French artists such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) and Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825). Since then Watt’s style has become increasingly abstract, although her paintings remain rooted in the idea of human presence and absence.

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Oil on canvas, Moon, 2014, by Alison Watt

Moon is a striking example of Watt’s mature work, which blends the influence of the Old Masters with the artist’s literary interests. The poetry of Norman MacCaig (1910-1996), with its focus on the small, often overlooked details of nature and their relationship to our wider understanding of the world, is of particular relevance. According to Watt, Moon relates specifically to MacCaig’s 1974 poem Praise of a Thorn Bush, which describes a transformation by moonlight:

at night you trap stars, and the moon
fills you with distances.

Like a piece of poetry, this quietly powerful painting invites a contemplative and intimate response.

Moon is the first artwork by Alison Watt to be acquired by the City Art Centre. It joins a growing collection of work by contemporary Scottish artists which includes important pieces by, among others, Nathan Coley (b1967), Christine Borland (b1965), Charles Avery (b1973) and Graham Fagan (b1966). It also strengthens the representation of female artists in the collection.

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Moon on display at the City Art Centre

Moon can currently be seen at the City Art Centre in the new exhibition Edinburgh Alphabet: An A-Z of the City’s Collections. This show brings together over 300 objects drawn from across the City’s fine and applied art, social history, literary, archaeology and childhood collections. Within this diverse, multi-disciplinary display Moon is shown alongside a selection of historic and modern Scottish sculpture, revealing yet another dimension to this richly layered artwork.

Edinburgh Alphabet: An A-Z of the City’s Collections runs until 8 October 2017. For more information see: http://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/Venues/City-Art-Centre/Exhibitions/2017-18/Edinburgh-Alphabet

Dr Helen Scott
Curator (Fine Art)
City Art Centre, Edinburgh

http://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/