Happy Birthday Harry Linley Richardson
I'll readily admit that Cynthia's Birthday is not to everyone's taste, but I've always rather liked this painting. It's perhaps something to do with its almost Pre-Raphaelite qualities – its far too serious, heavily posed subjects framed by flowers and trees, its great attention to detail, and all of that pale, ethereal flesh.
H. Linley Richardson Cynthia's Birthday 1926-1927. Collection Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, presented by the Canterbury Society of Arts, 1932.
Of course it's also a child's birthday – an instantly appealing subject . Cynthia, however, seems hardly aware that her three candles are now lit, being more interested in presenting to the beholder her porcelain doll-like stare. There is much enjoyable detail: massed hydrangeas, willow pattern plates, twisting pastel coloured candles, a circle of celebrating kewpie dolls, 1920s bobs, the backyard orchard. The whole thing feels completely unreal - even strange - but somehow we have been allowed into an intimate moment; become part of this treasured family circle.
Today is actually the artist's birthday. Harry Linley Richardson was born in London on 19 October 1878. After studying in London and Paris, he arrived in New Zealand in 1908 to take up the position of Assistant Art Instructor at the Wellington Technical College. He also painted his family more than once. In the Christchurch Art Gallery collection we have Bathing the Baby (c.1916). Te Papa updates the story with another of my old favourites, which includes the artist himself, In fancy dress (c.1930).