Continental European after 1800, Portraits: British 20th C 12 Who painted this portrait of British nurse Edith Cavell (1865–1915)?

Edith Cavell
Topic: Artist

The inscription as recorded says the artist is 'G. Finchingford', but the signature doesn't appear to have enough letters for that name.

The painting was a gift from Belgium (presumably done when Edith Cavell was in Belgium during the First World War), so perhaps this is a Belgian artist?

Art UK has published this story about Cavell to mark the centenary of the unveiling of a public memorial to her in St Martin's Place, London, on 17th March 1920: https://bit.ly/3aWBs3M

Andrew Shore, Entry reviewed by Art UK

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12 comments

Martin Hopkinson,

Could it read Finch ft. ? Arthur William Finch 1854-1930 was of course an internationally renowned Belgian artist, but settled in Finland 1897 turming to ceramics - but he returned to painting in 1902. His parents were British, but has anything been written on his later work?
He exhibited alongside Whistler with Les XX
There was a joint Finnish and Belgian exhibition in 1991-2. There may well be more recent Finnish publications

Martin Hopkinson,

latest publication - 2018 Didrichsenin taidemuseo, Helsinki [ only
a small museum]

I attached a detail of the signature to Andrew's enquiry above, but it's not from the high-resolution image. For the time being I have no direct access to those because they will not save to my home computer, but I hope to solve this soon.

It looks to me like a 'G' in front of the surname, but I've not had any luck making that out.

Jacinto Regalado,

The first initial certainly seems to be a G, and the surname appears to have nine letters and start with an F. I rather doubt it is followed by the Latin abbreviation for "made by" (fecit) at such a late date.

Martin Hopkinson,

It might be worth looking at the artists listed in the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie online H. Wijgergangs, Projekte Belgische Vluchtelingen in Nederland 1914-1918 since many Belgian artists fled to Holland - and the portrait of Edith Cavell would have been a dangerous thing to paint in Belgium during the German occupation of Belgium
This artist is not one of those I came across when I was doing research on Belgian artists in exile in Britain during that war

It would be well worth consulting the art historian Dr Caterina Vedickt at the University of Antwerp, a specialist on this period of Belgian art caterina.verdict@uantwerpen.be

A portrait of Cavell by a Belgian artist will probably have attracted
attention in several contemporary Belgian newspapers

Osmund Bullock,

Attached is an enlarged and contrast-adjusted image that is perhaps slightly easier to work with...though not, as far as I'm concerned, any easier to decipher!

On the face of it I agree that 'ft' or 'fct' seems unlikely - the last letters look very much part of a continuous sequence of 8 or 9 lower-case ones following a capital 'F' (or perhaps 'T) that logic suggests should be a surname. But I've so far been unable to find a name in Getty's ULAN, or even genealogically, that seems to fit any likely interpretation of what we see. I even considered the idea of the first two strokes being a 'u' with a slightly offset umlaut - or that the 2nd & 3rd ones together could be a 'd'. I remain baffled.

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Osmund Bullock,

Ah...it seems to be based on an image extracted from a pre-war group photograph of her with some of her nurses: https://bit.ly/3d9dAfi . I can't find the photo's origin - it appears in a couple of other places on the web (e.g. https://bit.ly/3abiXc9 ), but all versions are very low-res. It's probably in one of the numerous biographies of Cavell that have appeared over the years - most are not online, but I've checked six or eight that are. It might be worth emailing the website owner to see if he knows more.

It is no surprise to find a photographic original, as I think it unlikely she ever sat for a portrait in oils; the family background was essentially genteel poverty, and few had heard of her before her trial and execution - afterwards *everybody* had heard of her, and not just in England. As a result, countless likenesses were produced in succeeding years, and most were based on photographs, however remotely - the others seem to have been based on nothing but the artist's imagination.

Interestingly there is mention here https://bit.ly/2UdNeQM of "a splendid oil-painting of Miss Cavell" which was presented in 1919 to the school where she taught during a ceremony attended by the King and Queen of the Belgians. It was hung on the class-room wall, and is described by the book's author, one of the nurses she trained, as "an exact likeness of her as she appeared during the early years of our little school in the rue de la Culture". There's not enough there to identify it as our portrait, let alone to help with the artist...but it might be.

Yes, Osmund, I thought this might well be a posthumous image as she is seen as a rather saintly figure, lending the portrait a sense of homage. The photo is a great find and is most likely to be the source. She appears to be close to the age she was at her death.

According to a recent book on Cavell, the school on the Rue de la Culture opened in 1907 when she would have been 42 years old. There's probably not enough difference between that age and the age she is in the "pre-war" photo to be relevant.

Mark Wilson 01,

I presume this is the same picture that appears in the National Archives here:

https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/eff69c61-9733-4d6b-9daf-0bb192fe6b55

dated 1915 (the year of Cavell's execution) and part of "Papers of and relating to Edith Cavell (1865-1915), collected by the Institut Edith Cavell - Marie Depage, Uccle, Brussells" The Institut no longer seems to exist in that form (though there are still medical facilities there with Cavell's name), so that may explain why it was donated to the UK in 2000.

It would be wonderful if it had been painted from life when she was imprisoned (August to Aoctober) before her trial but it's also possibly taken from a photograph such as the one used for this photogravure:

https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw64464

that in turn might have been taken from the earlier photo of her with the Depages in 1909 or so:

https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw254637/Edith-Cavell-Antoine-Depage-Marie-Depage-and-probationers-at-the-Brussels-Nursing-School

though the uniform is slightly different and Cavell looks older and more tired in the portrait. But that might be the work of a skilled artist.

(Because of the GF initials I did wonder if it might be linked to Sir George Frampton who created Cavell's monument outside the NPG, but I think that's a coincidence)

Andrew Chamberlain,

If starting with T then could the first group of letters be Tidje, or Tiedje ?

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