Thursday, March 31, 2011

Modeling for My Parents

Nancy II . 1914

Nancy Hale, daughter of artists Lilian and Philip Hale did not like to pose. Why not? "While people who paid for portraits by my mother might get their own way about what they wore in them, I, who had been since infancy the built-in, free artist's model around that house, never had any such say.

My mother had drawn me at the age of six weeks in my bassinet; propped up against pillows, at the age of six months, on a background of patterned roses. At the age of one, seated in a baby carriage, I made a spot in an Impressionist painting by my father. There is a portrait of me at six wearing a dark-blue straw hat with red cherries, but that is the only article of apparel in any picture of me I remember having any fondness for, and even in that portrait I look glum.

Lilian Wescott Hale (1881 - 1963) . The Cherry Hat
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

At seven I was posed with my hair parted in the middle and tied with two bows, too tight, which hurt. A prize-winning painting of my mother's called Nancy and the Map of Europe shows me and my large doll dressed in identical blue cotton-crepe dresses with waistlines up under the armpits, and white guimpes. I hated dresses with high waistlines, because the other girls wore dresses with low waistlines. For that matter, I hated my doll, too.

Nancy and the Map of Europe

I had to pose so much in my childhood that when I reached the age of about thirteen I finally figured out a requirement of my own. I wouldn't pose, I said, unless I could be painted with a book. So all subsequent pictures show me in the act of reading. Several are silhouetted against a window; some show the book, some don't; but all have the eyes downcast. *

* from The Life in the Studio by Nancy Hale . Little, Brown and Company, 1957


  1. The opposite of my granddaughters who love to be the subject of photos or a painting (they're in a painting now -- with Grandpa -- that I just finished).

  2. I find this so very sad. The artist seems to have forced the subject matter of her paintings rather than celebrated the natural movements and expression of her daughter as she was. I think artists can forget the reality of our lives, the people around us and the importance of those relationships, sacrificing all for the love of becoming more skilled. It's like not being able to see the forest through the trees, imho.