20 January 2012


 Austin Shaw, 1922 

The house was looking dull, once the Christmas traces were removed and too much grey January was lurking about in corners, so we embarked on  picture rehanging. Constance moved down from the stairwell and into the dining room, replacing an over-sized gloomy cathedral etching.  She has simply taken over the room. It has a good story, this picture.

Her father, Hector Charlesworth, was editor of the Toronto weekly Saturday Night before leaving to become director of the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission. Somewhere along the way he met the portrait painter Austin Shaw, and somewhere Shaw saw Constance and asked to paint her. Shaw promised to give Charlesworth the painting, but every time the topic came up, it was, "Oh, Hector, I have an exhibition coming up and I would really like to include it as one of the not-for-sale items.  It's the best thing I've ever done."

When Shaw died, Charlesworth had no proof of ownership and was unable to claim it from Shaw's widow who took it off to Los Angeles with the rest of the estate. Constance assumed it was lost.

Then in 1961 or 62, after Constance had moved with her husband and children to Berkeley, California, she was exploring a neighborhood of less than chic "antique" shops in the area of Alcatraz and Adeline. She saw this painting in a window and reacted with something like, I had a scarf like that. Then she thought, I sewed two black extensions into it just like the ones there -- Good heavens! That's me!

The next day her husband and son, Louis and Pierre went to the shop and looked at paintings, discussing loudly which would go with a putative color scheme. They finally decided the portrait would do, and were able to get it for less than $100.* Thus Constance was reunited with Constance. Pierre inherited her at his father's death. 

*An Austin Shaw portrait sold recently from a Toronto on-line gallery where it was priced at $3,999 CD. His work is very nearly invisible on the internet, though there is one portrait in the Ontario National Archives.

1 comment:

  1. Do you know where I might find more information on Austin Shaw? He painted a portrait of my father around 1925 that I have hanging in my home. I also have a copy of (I believe it's call American Fine Arts Magazine) where the portrait of my father was featured. I've searched online many times trying to get more background on Austin Shaw but have never had any luck until finding this post today. I have no intention of selling the painting but have always been interested in finding more information on the artist. Sincerely...Jann


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