I discovered the existence of this painting in the National Portrait Gallery collection when searching for an image of Wendy Hiller to illustrate another article. Being interested (as a reviewer of my book said) in ‘all things Greenwood’, I was delighted to find a portrait of Hiller explicitly linked to her portrayal of Sally Hardcastle. The National Portrait Gallery website gives, as usual, information about sitter, painter, and painting. (1) In this article, I can add to the NPG’s information some further detail about the relationship between the portrait and the play of Love on the Dole, some further information about the artist’s reputation in the thirties and after, and can also confirm the date of the painting.
The National Portrait Gallery’s website records that Wendy Hiller (1912-2003) sat for nineteen portraits in their collection. These mostly date to the nineteen-forties, but there are also a few portraits from the nineteen-fifties, sixties and seventies, with the latest being a fine photograph by Nicholas Sinclair from 1989. Quite a number show Hiller in theatrical or film contexts, including several linked to her performances in films of George Bernard Shaw plays in the forties. These include one of her as Major Barbara in 1940 (by Paul Tanqueray), and one of her on the set of the same film from 1941 (by Claude Davis Boulton). However, the earliest portrait of Hiller in the Gallery’s collection (and the only painting) shows her in the stage role which founded her career, brought her great praise and celebrity, and drew her to the attention of George Bernard Shaw, leading to her first (and again highly praised) film role. The role referred to in the painting is, of course, that of Sally Hardcastle in the 1935 stage version of Love on the Dole.
The portrait is identified on the National Portrait Gallery website as ‘Dame Margaret Wendy Hiller’, but this is of course a retrospective title, or identification of the sitter, rather than the title of the painting, since she was not awarded her DBE until 1975, and the portrait is dated in the description to ‘circa 1935’, the first year of the sensational success of Love on the Dole. The portrait was owned by Hiller, and presumably hung in her home. She married the playwright Ronald Gow, the co-author of the play of Love on the Dole , in 1937 and they lived in a house called ‘Spindles’ in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, which was where the painting must have been housed from 1937 onwards. Gow died in 1993, and Hiller and Gow’s daughter and son gave the portrait as a gift to the National Portrait Gallery in the year of their mother’s death. Here it is:
Dame Margaret Wendy Hiller
By Thomas Cantrell Dugdale
Oil on Canvas, circa 1935
44 in. x 32 1/8th in. (1117mm x 815 mm)
Given by the Sitter’s Son and Daughter, Anthony Hiller Gow and Ann Gow, 2003
NPG 6656 ©National Portrait Gallery, reproduced here with kind permission of the NPG under an academic licence.
The National Portrait Gallery makes the association between the portrait and Sally Hardcastle in its brief commentary on the painting which says ‘This portrait of Hiller as Sally Hardcastle in Love on the Dole anticipates land girls and John Betjemen’s poetic heroines’. The painting certainly does show Hiller as Sally, and I also agree that in the painting Hiller does appear to be wearing something which looks very like the highly practical breeches worn by members of the Women’s Land Army (in both World War One and Two – for a WW2 example see: Breeches: Women’s Land Army | Imperial War Museums (iwm.org.uk)). However, this would make little sense as a reference to her role as Sally Hardcastle, since she does not wear anything of the sort. The appearance of the apparel as breeches is an unfortunate side-effect of the three-quarter length portrait, which stops at just above knee-height. What Hiller did wear in her stage role were hiking-shorts, which were part of her costume in Act II Scene 2, when Sally and Larry go rambling on the moors with the Labour Club, in the only scene in the play not set in the urban environment of Hanky Park. Many reviews of the play were impressed by the large scenery rock in this scene, which represented the moors, as well as by the two lovers’ rare opportunity to be alone. The Nelson Leader in its review of the touring production when it appeared at Nelson Palace remarked that among all its other other virtues, the ‘principal settings of the Hardcastle’s kitchen and of the lonely and grand Derbyshire moorlands, are superb pieces of stage setting’ (10/8/1934, p.4).
A number of papers in one way or another seem also to have been quite taken by Sally’s shorts. The Bystander had the unusual custom of accompanying its full-page theatre reviews not with photographs but with cartoon-like drawings of the central characters in particular scenes. The periodical’s very favourable review of Love on the Dole on 13th February 1935 (p.8) showed three play scenes in its ‘sketches by Rouson’: Mrs Hardcastle ironing, Mr Hardcastle throwing Mrs Dorbell, Mrs Jikes and Mrs Bull out of the house, and Larry and Sally on the moors, with her shorts and legs notably foregrounded.
While most of the drawings of the characters are good likenesses of the relevant actors, the one of Hiller as Sally is notably different from reality in making her blonde rather than brunette (though the facial features do catch something of the young Hiller). I suspect this ‘artistic’ decision is somewhat linked to the impact of the shorts, as is Rouson’s portrayal of the scene – Sally seems to throw herself at Larry and it seems much more frivolously sexualised than the actual serious romantic (and political) atmosphere of the play scene itself. The photographs of scenes from the play published by the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News are truer to the play, and more helpful in understanding Dugdale’s painting (15/2/1935, p.43) – see https://waltergreenwoodnotjustloveonthedole.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/ilustrated-sporting-and-lod-play-photos.jpg?w=778 .
As in the painting, here Sally is dressed exactly as described in the play’s stage direction: Sally appears, in hiking shorts and shirt. Though the play’s stage directions do not specify how her hair should look, it has clearly been ruffled to make it look wind-swept in this scene captured by the photograph, and the portrait also reproduces this effect from the stage-production. The photograph is of a point in Act II, Scene 2 (‘On the Moors’) when having climbed high on the moors, Larry offers Sally half of his apple – the only food they have left. Here is the dialogue from around that moment in the play:
LARRY. … Well, are you happy now we’ve got here?
SALLY. Fine! Aren’t we high up in the world? This is a special place, an’ only us two know why. Isn’t it grand being alone? Ah’ve never seen so much loneliness in all me life.
LARRY. … Isn’t that a grand view?
SALLY. Grand! Miles an’ miles of it. Gosh! An’ this air – its wonderful. Ah wish Ah could breathe it every day. Meks me like Ah could fly.
LARRY. Well, don’t do that, or else you’ll give me a turn. Here take something to hold you down. One apple left.
SALLY. No, that’s yours.
LARRY. We’ll go halves (He splits the apple). There you are, take the red side. It matches your cheeks.
SALLY. Phew! Ah feel more like a beetroot! Wasn’t it a climb?
(Cape edition, London, 1935, pp. 73-74).
This is the scene also alluded to by the portrait. This is why Sally/Hiller’s cheeks are so emphatically red in the painting, and may explain her hands on hip pose – she is resting satisfied and exhilarated after the long climb with Larry, and is looking over the landscape below. Even the pink-tinted swirling clouds in the background of the portrait may refer to this scene in the play. In the dialogue which follows that above, Sally and Larry look at the sky and sunset:
SALLY. … Look at yon sunset. Why is it so red?
LARRY. They say it’s the sunshine through the smoke. Hanky Park’s over there – thirty miles away. It’s a queer thing that all that foul smoke should make beauty for us.
SALLY. See yon cloud – big black fellow with a bulge in him. (She laughs) Why it’s Sam Grundy! (pp.75-6)
There was a photographic cigarette card issued in 1935, which has another version of almost the same moment in the play, but showing only Sally, and again featuring the rock, shirt, shorts and wind-swept hair of Hiller as Sally, on her ramble with Larry. I think both in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News photograph and the cigarette card image, we can see that the hiking-shorts are what Dugdale is depicting – they are tight at the waist but loose at the hip giving the flared effect in the painting which makes them resemble breeches. Perhaps indeed Hiller wore her actual Act II, Scene 2 stage costume when sitting for the portrait?
The reverse gave a brief history of Hiller’s rise to fame via Love on the Dole:
The artist of the portrait, Thomas Cantrell Dugdale (1880-1952), was by 1935 an established and well-known portrait painter in oils. He had been born in Blackburn, and studied at the Manchester College of Art, the Royal College (Chelsea), the City and Guilds School (Kennington) as well as two art-schools in Paris (see Art UK site: Dugdale, Thomas Cantrell, 1880–1952 | Art UK). He was a prominent member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, and was made an Associate Fellow of the Royal Academy the year after his Hiller portrait. The Tatler, in a brief feature article mainly about Dugdale’s wife Katherine Ann Browning’s painting career, described him as ‘the famous artist whose pictures are so well known in the Academy and other galleries, also in the Continental and Colonial ones’ (5/10/1932, p.17). Dugdale’s obituary in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer similarly shows how very well-known he was and that he maintained his reputation as a portrait painter throughout the thirties and nineteen-forties and up until his death. It records that:
Mr. Thomas Cantrell Dugdale, R.A., painter of royalty, statesmen, trade union leaders, businessmen and stage stars, died at his home in Chelsea yesterday, aged 72 . . . [his] pictures have been exhibited all over the world, including in Pittsburgh, Vienna, Paris, New York, Dusseldorf, Venice, Cape Town, Wellington and Sydney. Examples of his work have a permanent place in the Scottish National Collection, in the Tate Gallery, and in the Art Galleries of Manchester, Liverpool, Bournemouth, Glasgow, Leicester, Cape Town, Rochdale and elsewhere. Among his sitters was Princess Margaret, whom he portrayed in an evening gown. This was one of the two royal studies shown at the Royal Academy exhibition last year. Another of his subjects was Mr. Ernest Bevin, whom he painted when Mr. Bevin was Minister of Labour in Mr Churchill’s Government. King Haakon and the Duchess of Gloucester were others of his sitters, and from the stage his subjects Included Vivien Leigh and Jessie Matthews (14/11/1952, p. 5).
One notes the range and social prominence of his subjects and that he had a specialism in contemporary stage stars. The portrait of Hiller was reproduced in a two-page feature in the Sphere on the 23rd November, 1935, together with seven other portraits, with the title: ‘British Portraiture: a Gallery of Feminine Studies at the 1935 Exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in Piccadilly’ (pp.18-19). The Exhibition had opened in November and ran until 7th December 1935. The painting is surely likely to date from the great success of the production of Love on the Dole and Hiller’s performance as Sally at the Garrick London (rather than in the 1934 ‘provincial’ tour) The Garrick production opened in January 1935, was being loudly praised in theatre reviews by February, and so the portrait must have been painted between then and November 1935. Presumably, Dugdale had to be commissioned to do such a work, and given his reputation and how busy he seems to have been, as well as the commitment of time from both artist and sitter needed to produce a portrait in oils (even at this scale of 44 x 32 1/8th inches), it seems likely to have been finished later rather than earlier in this period. Perhaps it was only finished relatively close to the November exhibition of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters?
Like much of Dugdale’s work the commission was presumably primarily for a portrait to be kept and viewed in a private space. The painting might therefore have private significances known only to its commissioner(s) – I wonder if her parents were involved, in which case the painting may primarily mark her huge success in moving from part-time repertory performer into a star within a space of two months? Equally, for Hiller the portrait presumably also marked the way in which her role as Sally transformed her life. While in Sally’s story, this scene on the moors represents the height of her happiness with Larry (before a tragic fall in which their dreams of marriage become impossible), for Hiller it might represent her achieved climb up the path to an established acting career. As it happens, members of the public who viewed the portrait (as when it was exhibited in Piccadilly) would also have recognised easily the reference to the famous scene in Love on the Dole, which now needs some reconstruction. Whoever commissioned the portrait and whenever it was completed, it is pleasing to have part of Hiller’s triumph of a performance as Sally Hardcastle preserved in a painting by another talented artist.
Note 1. See Dame Wendy Margaret Hiller – Person – National Portrait Gallery (npg.org.uk) and the page for this portrait, NPG 6656; Dame Wendy Margaret Hiller – Portrait – National Portrait Gallery.
Note 2. In fact, in the play only Sally is actually shown ironing, in the first scene, but Mr Hardcastle does indeed throw the three older neighbours out of the Hardcastle house in Act III, Scene 2, Cape edition, p.118). Rouson’s sketches seem to have accompanied every Bystander theatre review from August 1932 until September 1940. The only other information I have found about Rouson is that he had a daily cartoon about people’s behaviour in shops titled ‘Shop Acts’, which began to be published in regional newspapers in April 1932 (information from the Hull Daily Mail, 26/4/1932, p.1)