Thursday, April 6, 2023

Portrait of his Sister - Francis Swithin Anderton

Once upon a time, I had a project in mind to research my great grandfather's career as an artist in some thoroughness - it hasn't as yet come to anything, though I have successfully managed to get Doug interested and he may yet make a job of it. Meanwhile I have been lucky to secure a second unfinished portrait for my own small collection of family portraits. 

This one is the kind gift of the couple who bought our old family home 30-odd years ago. It had been left in the attic, abandoned I think because the canvas had fallen back on some exposed nails on an old packing case and had been punctured in a couple of places. In all the bother of removing the accumulated rubbish of the previous century, it might well have ended up on a bonfire. 

Just back from the conservator
Before restoration

Stern Mrs Foster.

Fortunately, the new owners opted on a restoration instead, the painting was cleaned, patched, re-stretched, and framed. They have now sold up in turn, and as part of their downsizing very kindly passed it back to me. Somewhere along the way she had picked up a little bit of mildew, and the original repair job was in need of a touch-up. I also wanted to get her varnished for better future preservation (it's much easier to clean dirt off varnish than it is from paint, and modern varnishes do not yellow the way old ones used to). She won't have glass on her and I'm all too aware of how much dust, candle soot, and other sundry grime accumulates on my windows to be complacent about a canvas. 

I got her back today looking particularly vibrant and full of the joys of spring - and I'm very happy to have done so. Florence Ruth Anderton married Edward Hornby Foster, and was by all accounts a formidable woman. She is popularly rumoured to have haunted at least two of the houses she lived in, and for all I know maybe she left some part of her spirit in a few others as well. I never heard her referred to as anything but Mrs Foster by anyone, family included, who could have remembered her - but there are photographs of her in fancy dress, many taken with her brothers which suggest a lighter side to her personality. I would dearly have liked to meet her. Dad has another, finished, portrait of her that I covet where she looks remarkably stern, although maybe she's just trying to balance her hat and maintain some gravity.


  1. That's an incredible story, Hayley. Good for everyone all around - the house buyers for saving, preserving, and restoring the picture, and you for continuing to give it love! Was this a wedding portrait of Florence, do you think? It looks so like a bridal gown. What were the dates of this formidable lady? (I recently had a 1920s painting of Peter's grandmother patched up, I won't call it restored, but don't think there's anybody in the world who'd ever be interested in it but myself; as it's in poor condition, not a famous artist. Still, I'll hang on to it and try to think of where it might find a home post me.)

    1. 1872 -1953, I'd judge this to have been done in the early 1890's. It could have been meant as a wedding portrait, the only thing that makes me wonder is that dad still has her wedding veil and it's altogether bigger and fancier than the one on the picture - but then it's so unfinished it's hard to say. For all this pictures unfinished state though it's surprisingly good company. I like her a lot, and I guess maybe she'd have an appeal beyond the family if nobody much wants her after me.

      I got her refurbished from pure sentimentality, I believe it's always worth keeping these things if you can. If someone thought it was worth painting Peter's grandmother in the 1920s it's worth preserving her to become part of other peoples stories and history in years to come. Too much of this stuff gets lost.

  2. Tried to comment but am lost in a sea of google email, which I don't get!