Art Gallery Volunteer Russell Forester shows us that small really can be beautiful as he reveals his favourite works from the University's Art Collections.
The Edward Westoby Miniatures
Tucked away in a corner of the Gallery space here at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery is, in my view, a treasure trove of the most delicate, precise and charming paintings in miniature by Lincolnshire born artist Edward Westoby. The skilfully painted and sketched miniatures offer a wide glimpse into the world that Westoby lived in; through sketches of local Yorkshire scenery, to sometimes playful depictions of characters and people of the 1800's.
One of the portraits which stands out for me depicts William Spencer Cavendish, the sixth Duke of Devonshire. A watercolour, delicately applied onto ivory, fully captures with brilliant detail the character of a typical well respected, well presented and somewhat influential gentleman of the 19th century. I read Cavendish as somewhat arrogant and pompous displaying himself finely turned out in front of what I assume to be the estates which he lords over: but how do you view this portrait? One of the interesting factors in Westoby's portraits is that they invite the viewer to explore the subjects depicted and try to gain an insight into their character, whether the impression you get matches up with the artists intentions or not is all part of the fun.
Edward Westoby, William Spencer Cavendish, the sixth Duke of Devonshire. Watercolour on Ivory. Date unknown. Harland Gift 2002. Image © University of Leeds Art Collection
On a slightly more intimate note is the portrait of Cornet G.W. Tireman, a soldier serving in the Yorkshire Hussars. An emotional keepsake or gift that the soldier might possibly have commissioned to give to his family, or beloved, before setting out to war, knowing that he may possibly not return. The scale and delicate nature of the portrait on ivory tugs at the heart strings as one thinks of the reasons behind creating such an intimate likeness in this portable locket, or pendant-sized treasure.
Edward Westoby, Cornet G.W. Tireman, Yorkshire Hussars, Watercolour on Ivory, before 1820. Harland Gift 2002. Image © University of Leeds Art Collection
For those with an interest in a slightly more macabre morbid subject matter, one of Westoby's more profound works is that which depicts his father and mother, John and Sarah Westoby, on their deathbeds: Something which may seem unfamiliar and even uncomfortable to us today but back in the 1800's was a much practiced tradition. A forbearer to the Victorian tradition of post mortem photography, a morbid but fascinating art form that is slowly been lost to time, these works differ from the rest as they make you consider the artist's emotions and the motivation behind the work, rather than simply that of the subject. As a final glimpse of a loved one and act of remembrance these paintings, minimalistic in content and tone, still manage to capture as much detail and emotion as Westoby's other works.
Edward Westoby, John Westoby on his deathbed, Watercolour on Ivory, 1827. Harland Gift 2002. Image © University of Leeds Art Collection
Edward Westoby, Sarah Westoby on her deathbed. Watercolour of Ivory. Date Unknown. Harland Gift 2002. Image © University of Leeds Art Collection
Personally these three works are my favourite miniatures in the collections here at the University but it has been said to me before that I have a rather morbid taste when it comes to art relating to death. Each to their own after all...
Why not come on down to the Gallery and catch a glimpse of these treasures and possibly even choose your own favourite?
See more works by Edward Westoby on our collections pages http://library.leeds.ac.uk/art-gallery-collections