In the later part of the 19th and early in the 20th century, several British artists looked to the work of James Abbott McNeill Whistler for inspiration. In observing the current work, it is likely that he was referencing Whistler’s interior entitled, At the Piano (1858–59) (Taft Museum of Art, Ohio, USA), which Orpen would almost certainly have seen when it was exhibited in 1905 at the artist’s Memorial Exhibition in London in 1905 (no.75). This shows Whistler’s half-sister at the keyboard of a grand piano and niece leaning against the crook in the grand, watching her mother as she plays, placing Annie Haden in profile. Orpen chooses a similar pose, with Annie Harmsworth’s legs crossed, with just the toes of the bent leg’s foot making contact with the floor, whilst she leans against a sideboard, rather than a piano. As this is a commissioned portrait, Orpen does not have the luxury of using a second figure as a foil. Rather than ‘landscape’, he chooses the more usual ‘portrait’ orientation for the work, keeping the balance by replacing a second figure with various objects on the left of the composition. On the right-hand side, he introduces half of 'an old Dutch chair', (which is in The Mirror of 1900 and in several other later portraits), with a piece of clothing draped over the seat, trailing to the floor. He also subtly rearranges the pose, the legs cross higher up at the calves, the head is turned to directly face the viewer, the lean into the piece of furniture is just that much greater, and greater emphasis is placed on the hands. The effect is that it gives Annie a nonchalant attitude, presenting us with a softer and less formal portrait than that of Annie Lumb of the year before.
Given Orpen's great admiration for Velasquez, whose spell he fell under on a trip to Madrid in 1904 in the company of Lane, it has also been suggested that the present portrait shares an affinity with Velasquez's portraits of the Infanta Margaret at the ages of 3 and 8, seen in the pose of the girl, the vase of flowers, patterned carpet and bronze of a lion.
Known as 'Dolly', Annie Harmsworth was born on 4 May 1900, in Bushey, Hertfordshire, the eldest daughter of Sir Robert Leicester Harmsworth, Bt. Her father was Liberal M.P. for Caithness 1900-1918 and for Caithness and Sutherland 1918-1922. He was a brother of Alfred Charles William Harmsworth, (Viscount Northcliffe) (founder of the 'Daily Mail' and one-time owner of 'The Times') and of Harold Sidney Harmsworth (Viscount Rothermere), Cecil Bisshopp Harmsworth, (1st Baron Harmsworth of Egham), Sir Hildebrand Aubrey Harmsworth, Bt., and William Albert St. John Harmsworth.
Miss Harmsworth married Terry Colley Durham of Richmond, Appomatix, Virginia, U.S.A. on 1st March 1921. He was a Rhodes Scholar of Christ Church, Oxford, who died in 1949. They had four daughters. She died, aged ninety, on 24th June 1990, in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, England. Orpen also painted Annie’s sister, Violette Lilian Rosemary Harmsworth: In a Landscape (1910, formerly in the Brian P. Burns Collection), and much later, two of her uncles which are since untraced.
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