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 She played duets during intervals in the theatrical performances her husband organised which were, in the words of an unpublished family memoir, ‘pioneering in a new form of interlude music’.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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On Growth and Form – 100 years on and still growing

Limestone sculpture, In the Beginning, 2009, by Peter Randall-Page and digital c-print, Trifolium repens L.- top view – No.10, 2016, by Macoto Murayama, acquired in 2013 and 2016 by the University of Dundee Museum Collections with NFA grants of £15,000 and £1,267 respectively.

The University of Dundee has a long history of encouraging collaboration between art and science, going back to its origins in the 1880s when two of its most notable professors, D’Arcy Thompson (1860-1948), Professor of Biology, and Patrick Geddes (1854-1932), Professor of Botany, were pioneering visual thinkers who worked regularly with both scientists and artists. The art critic Herbert Read later told Thompson: ‘you have built the bridge between art and science’.

One of the most significant collections held by the University is that of the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum, comprising the surviving natural history specimens and teaching aids of the internationally renowned polymath. D’Arcy’s collection was used not only in teaching his students but also in researching his landmark book On Growth and Form, published one hundred years ago, which pioneered the new science of mathematical biology. Described as ‘the greatest work of prose in twentieth century science’, the book has had a huge influence in many fields. It showed that the complexity of nature can be understood through basic mathematical and physical laws and that living organisms are not static but constantly affected by the forces acting upon them. This has profoundly influenced many artists including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Richard Hamilton, Jackson Pollock and Salvador Dali.

Over the past few years, the University has been building a collection of significant artworks inspired by D’Arcy Thompson’s ideas and collections, two of which have been grant-aided by the National Fund for Acquisitions.

The renowned British sculptor Peter Randall-Page RA (b1954) discovered On Growth and Form as an art student. His practice has always been informed and inspired by the study of natural phenomena, particularly the underlying principles determining growth. In his words ‘geometry is the theme on which nature plays her infinite variations’. With help from the NFA and the Art Fund, we were able to acquire his large-scale sculpture In the Beginning, which evokes cells multiplying within an expanding membrane. The sculpture is sited at the modern entrance to the University’s 19th-century Carnelley Building and can be visited by the public during normal working hours.

Peter Randall-Page sculpture installed

Limestone sculpture, In the Beginning, 2009, by Peter Randall-Page. University of Dundee Museum Services © the artist

 

Although the work of Japanese artist Macoto Murayama (b1984) takes a very different form, he too takes the mathematics of nature as his starting point. He has become internationally known for his exquisitely beautiful botanical artworks which he terms ‘inorganic flora’. These extraordinary images are created after minutely dissecting real flowers and studying them under a microscope. His drawings are then modelled in 3D imaging software and rendered into 2D compositions before being printed in large scale. The print we acquired is from a series showing white clover, Trifolium repens, and was created for an exhibition of his work we held in 2016.

Trifolium repens L.-top view-No.10

Digital c-print, Trifolium repens L.- top view – No 10, 1916, by Macoto Murayama. University of Dundee Museum Services © the artist

 

Macoto’s stunning print was one of almost 100 artworks from our D’Arcy Thompson art collection shown earlier this year in A Sketch of the Universe: Art, Science and the Influence of D’Arcy Thompson at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh. The exhibition kicked off a year of celebrations for the centenary of On Growth and Form, including events in New York, Amsterdam and London, culminating in a major conference and exhibition in Dundee in October. Further details can be found at www.ongrowthandform.org

Matthew Jarron
Curator of Museum Services
University of Dundee

www.dundee.ac.uk/museum