The (Only) Painting of Walter Greenwood, by Margaret Rosemary Anyon Cook (1950?)

The well-known and important portrait-photographer Howard Costner (1885-1959) took eight photographic portraits of Greenwood, seven in 1941 (though not all, I think, at one sitting), and one probably in the mid-nineteen-fifties, all of which are in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection (1). These are all black and white photographs, as one would expect at this period. However, there is just one portrait painting of Greenwood, which uses, as again one would expect, a range of colours in its palette. An image of this painting is featured on the Art UK website: Walter Greenwood (1903–1974) | Art UK. It is a painting by the artist Margaret Rosemary Anyon Cook (1914-2003). She generally preferred to be called by her family name Anyon, and indeed, as in this case, always signed her work, ‘Anyon Cook’.

The portrait itself is reproduced and discussed in David Tovey’s meticulously researched and beautifully illustrated book: Polperro: Cornwall’s Forgotten Art Centre – Volume 2, Post-1920 (new out this year, 2021; see also his web-site: https://www.stivesart.info/art-in-polperro/). Greenwood’s friend and collaborator, the artist Arthur Wragg, lived in Polperro for many years, as did Greenwood at various periods, and also Anyon Cook. Tovey’s book is the best source for learning more about Anyon Cook, and some more about this portrait. Anyon Cook was in the main a portrait painter, though she did some landscapes of Polperro harbour, and also a good deal of dust-wrapper design and book illustration, mainly for children’s books. Her work included a number of covers for the introductions to science books by Edna Johnson (published by Basil Blackwell, Oxford in the nineteen-sixties) and a dust wrapper for Enid Blyton’s The Rat-a-Tat Mystery, first published by Collins in 1956, and which stayed in print with Anyon Cook’s cover until the nineteen-seventies (see Tovey p.291 and 292). A press review of the seventh annual exhibition of the Plymouth Society of Artists singled Cook out for her portraits, though it does not provide much detail about what portraits she exhibited: ‘Anyon Cook has excelled herself in the problem of portraiture, a subject which is always a difficult one to tackle (‘Experiment and Orthodoxy Mixed in Plymouth Society of Artist’s Show’, by a ‘Special Correspondent’, Western Morning News, 22/9/1950, p.2). The review by the same paper of the previous year’s exhibition at least identified more precisely Anyon Cook’s portrait, Sally, as ‘easily the best portrait’ in the exhibition. Cook was also commissioned to paint a portrait of the six-year old Princess Anne which was the basis for the cover of the ‘women’s pictorial’ magazine Home Chat (no 3263, August 11th, 1956 – reproduced in Tovey p.291). Anyon was not impressed by the fee for the portrait – which was only £15 (half of the sum Greenwood was apparently paid for Love on the Dole by Cape twenty-three years earlier in 1933 -see https://waltergreenwoodnotjustloveonthedole.com/a-second-walter-greenwood-edward-a-hibbitt-salford-novelist/).

The portrait shows Greenwood with the characteristic haircut and moustache which he favoured from 1935 right up until the end of his life. He is depicted standing in the right-angled corner of a room, the different lighting/shading of the two walls being indicated by the contrast of greyish-white and the darker grey colour. The white wall has more vertical brush-strokes, which are cleverly both the brush-strokes of this painting, but also readable as the brush-strokes of the wall-decoration too. Similarly, the grey wall has the same two levels of brush-stroke, but in this case in swirling patterns, adding another contrast between the two walls. Against these light and relatively uniform colours, the much brighter palette of Greenwood’s salmon-pink shirt, his related pink-brown-red skin-tones, and his ginger-brown hair stand out, but also have considerable unity through the gradation of colours. The whites of Greenwood’s eyes and his blue-grey eyes also pick up the two different wall colours. Instead of looking straight ahead at the viewer (and perhaps the implied artist during the sitting), Greenwood is shown looking to his right, in line with the angle of the white wall. Overall, then, the painting has a neat and careful formal construction which while depicting the subject as completely still, also suggests a sense of inner activity and life. Indeed, my reading of the portrayal of Greenwood is that he is presented as a quiet and reserved character, but one who is also very much alive inside – perhaps not doing the obvious thing in looking ahead, and meeting the implied artist and implied viewer’s gaze, but curious about something happening off to his right. His skin-tone suggests someone who has been spending time outdoors too, though (perhaps in the Cornish sun?), so he is not a recluse.

I very much like this portrait which looks like Greenwood in his photographs and in his two appearances in filmed interviews, and suggests an interpretation of his character which chimes with some other views. His friend, and author of his Oxford Dictionary of Biography entry, Geoffrey Moorhouse said of him that ‘Greenwood remained throughout his life a man of the people, affable but guarded, someone who had achieved respectability, but still bore the marks of the battering he received in his early years’. (2). Though this may not be the reason, I have always thought that Greenwood was somewhat reserved and not clubbable, though he did have a number of friends, of whom Arthur Wragg was one (see https://waltergreenwoodnotjustloveonthedole.com/walter-greenwoods-creative-partnerships/).

Tovey dates the portrait as post-war, and, given Greenwood’s appearance, I would think it was from the early nineteen-fifties. Tovey says ‘that for some reason, Greenwood did not acquire the portrait that Anyon produced of him and so she gifted it to Salford Art Gallery, in his home-town, in 1998. Sadly, it has yet to be mounted on a stretcher, let alone framed or hung’. (3)  Some sources suggest that in many respects Greenwood never wholly overcame his early impoverishment, so perhaps the idea of paying for a portrait of himself seemed extravagant (see https://waltergreenwoodnotjustloveonthedole.com/walter-greenwood-old-habits-die-hard-interview-george-rosie-the-radio-times-1971/). Tovey says that Anyon called Greenwood ‘Red Walter’ ‘due to his political beliefs’ (p.292) – though I am unsure how ‘red’ he was by the nineteen-fifties. It seems a pity Greenwood did not acknowledge the excellence of the portrait and Anyon Cook’s craft – I feel fairly sure he could in fact have afforded it by then (see https://waltergreenwoodnotjustloveonthedole.com/walter-greenwoods-finances-and-love-on-the-dole/). Equally sad is that the portrait is not currently on display. But we are lucky to have one portrait of Walter, and lucky that Anyon’s portrait of the writer is so acute.

NOTES

Note 1. See: Walter Greenwood – Person – National Portrait Gallery (npg.org.uk) and https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp01039/howard-coster.

Note 2. Greenwood’s entry in the Archive edition of the OED by Geoffrey Moorhouse. The last part of this description of WG’s character was removed in the revised OED entry, presumably because it was felt that the reference to ‘respectability’ was dated. The term indeed does have a range of hierarchical implications about class rooted in the first half of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, this term is part of what Moorhouse wants to say about Greenwood’s personality.

Note 3. Polperro: Cornwall’s Forgotten Art Centre – Volume 2, Post-1920, Wilson Books, Lifton, p.293.