Each month we choose a work of art from our Permanent Collection to showcase on the RWA landing. This month’s work is Jenny by Leila Faithfull, oil on canvas.
Jenny has been chosen by Stephen Jacobson VPRWA. Stephen was elected as an Academician in 2008 and has been Vice President since 2013. Living and painting in Portishead, his work is inspired by the vastness of the skies he sees from his windows. He initially trained in Manchester and Liverpool, studying graphic design and illustration, before undertaking a Post Graduate course in painting at the Royal Academy Schools.
There is a mystery surrounding this painting. The bequest, or purchase details, are unknown. Leila Faithfull was not an Academician and little is on record about her background.
For years the picture was entitled ‘Faithful Jenny’ as this was how it seemed to appear on the back of the canvas. When the BBC ‘Your Paintings’ website was launched, detailing all the pictures in British public collections, the RWA received an email from Leila’s granddaughter clarifying the name of the artist and correct title. I have been unable to trace further details of this information…
The small amount of background we have of the artist describes her as having been born in Woolton, Liverpool in 1896, the daughter of Sir James Reynolds, a businessman and Conservative MP. She studied at the Slade School of Art and at La Grande Chaumière in Paris. She was commissioned by the War Artists Advisory Committee to paint scenes of English rural life and The Imperial War Museum holds some of her work. There seems to be no trace of any pictures executed subsequent to this period. She died in 1994.
This painting of around 1938 shows ‘Jenny’ confronting the viewer in an almost defiant manner but with a hint of sadness in her eyes. This pose is invariably compelling and demanding of one’s attention. One wonders at her relationship to the painter, whether a family member, an acquaintance or a stranger she met in the coastal area where the painting is set. The backdrop may be a hint of her activities or preoccupations. It seems to indicate an industrial dock rather than a fishing port. The technique is typical of Faithfull’s work. The use of a light, delicate and transparent application of paint is reminiscent of ‘dry’ watercolour. Faithfull has used an almost monochromatic palette and the figure is backlit creating even lighting on the features and drawing the viewer to the eyes.
Stephen Jacobson VPRWA
Jenny is on display on the landing until 29th November.