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Work of the Week | 4 October 2021

Edith Somerville, Sketch of Head for ‘The Goose Girl’, c.1888, ink wash on paper, 12.7 x 11.43 cm. Purchased, 2020.

CAG.3063 Edith Somerville, Sketch of Head for ‘The Goose Girl’, c.1888, ink wash on paper, 12.7 x 11.43 cm. Purchased, 2020.

Ahead of her anniversary on Friday, this WORK OF THE WEEK is a tribute to Edith Somerville!

Although small in scale, Sketch of Head for ‘The Goose Girl’ (c.1888) offers intriguing insights into a beloved painting. A recent historic addition to the collection, it helps us to better understand the making of Somerville’s The Goose Girl (1888).

In preparing her paintings and illustrations, Somerville often used local people as models but only, as Frances Gillespie has noted, “if they could be persuaded to sit.” Very little is known, however, about the young subject of this ink study apart from her name, which is preserved in a diary entry from the time. In 1888, the artist wrote of her method: “Finished Maryann’s face and did a background down in scullery … got a small white gander for 3 bob and began to paint him.”

While each component may have been drawn from life, including this rapid ink study of Maryann, Somerville would ultimately construct her painting from various modified elements. This can particularly be appreciated in the differences of expression between the study of a shy Maryann and the painting’s sad goose girl.

Born on the island of Corfu, Edith Anna Œnone Somerville (1858-1949) was an Irish writer, farmer, huntswoman, suffragist, and organist. Although she is best known for her writing partnership with cousin, Violet Martin (1862-1915) – Somerville & Ross – she was also a talented artist with keen skills of observation.

Sketch of Head for ‘The Goose Girl’ (c.1888) is featured in EDITH SOMERVILLE: observations (Floor 2) until 5 December.

Tune into The Arts House with Elmarie Mawe on Cork’s 96FM and C103FM every Sunday morning as Conor Tallon chats with assistant curator Michael Waldron about each WORK OF THE WEEK! Listen back to this week's chat here:


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