David's Favorite Thing
Director of Education & Outreach
Lilian Westcott Hale (1880-1963)
Woman Resting, ca. 1942
Oil on canvas
Gift of the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company
One of my favorite objects in the Museum’s collection is “Woman Resting” (ca. 1942) by Lilian Westcott Hale.
I am happy that it is featured in the current exhibition The Finishing Touch: Understanding the Techniques of American Impressionist and Tonalist Painters on view through April 27th. The painting shows a young woman with rosey cheeks lying atop a made bed. Dressed in near black clothing and contorted into nap position, the woman is in stark contrast to the bright yellow chenille bedspread and yellow walls.
As a young artist, Hale won a scholarship to study painting at the school of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She studied with Boston painter Philip Hale whom she later married (and then surpassed in talent and prestige). This real-life story reminds me of the Victorian novel “The Story of Avis” (1877) by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps that I read in graduate school. In the novel, the main character Avis (which is Latin for bird) has to struggle between soaring as an artist or being caged with her domestic duties as wife and mother. Likewise, Hale was celebrated with solo exhibitions and medals from international expositions, but continued to can vegetables and make jellies and jams for her family.
“Woman Resting” inspired me to try to create a “tableau vivant” or living painting. I convinced Lisa Kenyon, my co-worker at the time, to be my creative accomplice. On a stifling hot summer day we gathered our costumes and props and crafted a comparable composition in my guest bedroom.
The Museum also owns “Agnes and Her Cat” (1917), a second painting by Lilian Westcott Hale, depicting a girl with flowing black hair seated with a cat upon her lap. This painting would be another great “tableau vivant,” but I would most likely substitute Maevis or Hector, one of my longhaired dachshunds, for the cat, or I’d never hear the end of it!