Anna Airy, L'Homme Enchaine, 1930

Anna Airy

Chosen by: Cheryl Siegel, the Gallery’s librarian and archivist. 

“As the oldest staff member at the Gallery and therefore chronologically closer to the founding, I wanted to choose something from the Founders Collection – a work that I thought was a really good painting. Mr. Stone, our founder, was a businessman, not an art history scholar, and he really liked pictures that told stories. He chose many story pictures for the collection – many of them not very good works.

Born in 1882, Anna Airy trained at the Slade School and was an active, British artist. She exhibited in the Royal Academy exhibitions every year from 1905-1956 and was a member of many British artists’ societies. Her life spanned almost the same era as Emily Carr.

This watercolour has appeared in many permanent collection exhibitions. Students in art history classes are frequently assigned to choose one work from an exhibition to write an essay about. Over the years, many students have chosen this charming painting and have come into the library to find out more about it. There isn’t much information about the artist. Scholarly commentary on the painting does not exist. So, I’ve told student that they would have to decipher the work for themselves. That makes quite a few nervous. They’re looking for footnotes and some authoritative source to tell them what they’re seeing.

The painting and the title are a bit ambiguous. From the title, we know that it is about the man. Is he linked to this languid woman on the chair by the golden chains that they are both holding? Is he a salesman? Is he a suitor? husband? father, even – showing favouritism to one daughter while ignoring the other? Is the woman reading the newspaper uninterested? Yet, she is turned towards the action of the scene and will not miss anything. Is she bored or is she jealous?

I can see why Mr. Stone liked story pictures. I think this is a wonderfully delicate and intruiguing work. It was in the inaugural exhibition at the Gallery in 1931 and reflects some of the formality and decorum of that age. I’ve used this painting as my screen saver and become rather attached to it. I always wonder if any of those students survived Art History 101.”

Cheryl Siegel has worked at the Gallery for 27 years, and welcomed thousands of art history students into the library over the years.

Anna Airy, L’Homme Enchaine, 1930. Founders Collection

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