Sunday, June 7, 2020

06/20 A Portrait Gallery


My father in law, Gerald Swann, and my mother in law. Marie Sixsmith Swann were both artists, Gerald having studied at the Académie de Bruxelles and Marie having studied at Central St-Martins in London. I met the Swanns in 1980 and married Anne, their daughter, in 1982. Gerald was an academic painter and always worked in a 19th century idiom, making portraits for the upper classes in Europe, an occupation which disappeared after WW11, and had him turn his hand to advertising. But a portraitist he was and “pictures” of the family filled their flat in Montreal. When the estate passed to Raphael, their son, and Gerald now 94, went to live in a home, the portraits were stored.

In 2018, Raphael occupied a large house in the country not far from where the family lived in the Eastern Townships, South-East of Montreal. When I visited recently, I found a stairwell running up from the large dining area to the upper level. I reminded Raphael of those large English Manors with their stairwell portrait galleries and suggested he do the same with some of the family portraits.

This past weekend, with the assistance of his Lordship I hung a number of the pictures on two walls of the stairwell and created a miniature riff on those large stately homes. Raphael still has many of the “mannerisms” of his European upbringing and the stairwell will contribute nicely to his swagger. For me, it was a chance to reference my knowledge of European art and architectural traditions that I learned in part from Gerald over the years, and that are often lost here in North America, which in both art and architecture evolves from a more modernist departure point, except perhaps for some of the disappearing Victorian homes of Montreal and Toronto.


I've included two particularly strong portraits (besides his self-portrait above). The first is of Raphael as a boy in a very "Constable" pose and finally a picture of Anne which he gave us as a wedding gift and which hung in our own home for a long time. I've since passed it on to Raphael in an effort to keep the "family portraits" together as a collection.