Artist Norah Neilson Gray: Young Woman with Cat

Artist Norah Neilson Gray (1882-1931): Young Woman with Cat

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 Privately held

Norah Neilson Gray (1882-1931):
Young Woman with Cat
Framed (ref: 8007)

Oil on canvas 
39 x 20 in. (99.0 x 50.8 cm) 

See all works by Norah Neilson Gray oil Portrait flowers women WOMEN Women at Mercers' Hall The Alan M. Fortunoff Collection

Provenance: The Fortunoff collection [HF27]

I was not properly introduced to Norah Neilson Gray until a few years

ago, during the course of my ‘B’ job on the Antiques Roadshow at

Kelvingrove in Glasgow, where I valued a really lovely painting of hers

from the 1930s and fell in love with her work. You might say that she was

a local artist, for she was born in Helensborough nearby and became one

of the ‘Glasgow Girls’, known to her students as ‘Purple Patch’ because of

her insistence that there is colour in shadows and her liking for pattern

and flowers. She was uniquely Scottish and uniquely her, evolving a

distinctive style to become the foremost female Scottish painter of her

day. Her success was perhaps only possible in the enlightened cultural

atmosphere of Glasgow at the turn of the century, under the benign

and encouraging influence of ‘Fra’ Newbery, Director of the Glasgow

School of Art, where Gray was taught and later in turn became a teacher.

She flowered in Newbery’s hothouse, where the dominant influence

on her was the Belgian artist Jean Delville, a Symbolist painter (and

Theosophist) who spoke little English but was an inspirational teacher,

grafting exotic continental ideas onto solid Scottish stock.

This girl, with a cat on her lap and some pansies, also sat to Gray for

her painting Little Brother, in the Kelvingrove collection, but we don’t

know who she is – perhaps one of Gray’s sisters. Her severe profile is

softened by muted browns and soft creams, painted with a flat brush, and

the yellows in the cat’s eyes and of the pansies give the picture a vibrant

rhythm. There’s even purple in the patches of shadow!

Commentary by Rupert Maas. Maas is is a dealer and historian specialising in Victorian and modern British art. He has

appeared on BBC’s Antiques Roadshow since 1997. As proprietor of the Maas Gallery in Mayfair,

founded in 1959, he has curated many exhibitions and supplied collections all over the world.