Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Robert Harris: A Meeting of the School Trustees

Robert Harris was a Prince Edward Islander. He lived from 1849-1919 and he painted this picture after his honeymoon in Europe with his wife Bessie.

It is painted in the style of the Dutch masters, with a restricted palette, and light from the upper left illuminating the men who sit around the table.

This is a painting of struggle. Here we see the solitary woman, (the young school teacher) standing. Her adversaries, her male trustees are all sitting. She is talking, and her body language and open hand suggests a degree of passion or commitment behind her words.

The men provide us with a pantomine theatre of reactions. The man to the left is leaned slightly towards the teacher, and appears to be listening intently. The man who leans against the wall, with his arms crossed, seems as if he is thinking, "Tell us another one." The man to the foreground right and with his back to us, is impassive. And, the man with his hand on the table, to whom the teacher speaks appears to be the alpha male. His hand is clenched and he has the slightest of cynical smiles, and you imagine him thinking "We've heard it all before, and we're not convinced".

Intriquingly, Roberr Harris appears to have taken a position in this painting, for his name is reportedly scratched into the desk by the teacher's hand.

Does this mean that the picture has some historical veracity?

Maureen Flynn-Burhoe's blog, presents an interesting theory behind the confrontation we see in this work. Click here.

Further reference. Anne Newlands; 'Canadian Paintings, Prints and Drawings', Firefly Books, Richmond Hill, Ontario. 2007,

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