Liverpool, England 1859 – London, England 1935
J. Montgomery, Esquire
London, Greater London, England
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on wood panel
At just over thirty centimetres high the portrait of J Montgomery Esquire is an intimate study. Inscribed in German ‘meine frende’, this work is far less formal than Hall’s self-portrait and conveys a personal rapport between artist and sitter. Yet it could be said that Montgomery’s appearance of relaxation—one leg crossed, one hand in his pocket, the other holding a burning cigarette and resting on the edge of a brown sofa—is undoubtedly posed.
From the fleshy pink wall to the glass and painting positioned behind him and the sensuous animal skin at his back, this scene is like a stage set constructed by the artist for Montgomery’s timeless painted monologue. He stares out of the work with heavy lidded eyes and though he seems to be looking directly at the painter and therefore at us, he gives little away. His mind is elsewhere.
Montgomery is certainly a man of fashion, with natty striped waistcoat and colour-matched socks and shirt but the painting suggests that he has ventured in his imagination far beyond the confines of this room—perhaps to join an African safari or an archaeological dig in Samarkand. Whatever his dreams, the set of Montgomery’s mouth communicates something we cannot know: a sense of frustration, perhaps, with certain aspects of his life that he shares with the artist. For despite Hall’s technical flair and the fluidity of the paint, this portrait remains a private and personal conversation between friends.
Bernard Hall returned to England in 1882 after studying abroad, progressing his career as a painter and illustrator. The following year saw the Royal Academy exhibiting one of his works. An active participant in the London art circle, Hall also exhibited with the Society of British artists and in 1886 was a founding member of the New English Art Club. This portrait was painted as part of a series of ‘late-night’ images of various friends, which were exhibited at intervals from 1886.
Hall migrated to Australia in 1892 following his appointment as Director of the National Gallery of Victoria. He was to remain in Melbourne until 1934 when he returned to London, where he died the following year.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray Australian portraits 1880–1960 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010