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Portrait of a Child (or My Daughter Clara)

Painting, 1914, 54×72 cm
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Description of the artwork «Portrait of a Child (or My Daughter Clara)»

In 1914, Rockwell Kent and his family arrived in the Canadian province of Newfoundland, where he hoped to settle for a long time. Back then, the usually cheerful Kent indulged in depression. Newfoundland landscapes disappointed him, the First World War was gaining monumentum, and Kent was haunted by the feeling of impending disaster. According to the artist himself, his paintings "no longer reflected delight in nature, but were full of sorrow - it was a cry for the tragic loneliness of a man thrown into the soulless immensity of the cosmos." Even the titles of the pictures created at that period speak for themselves, e.g. Newfoundland memorial service, House of Horrors.

Portrait of a child is almost the only bright spot among his works of the Newfoundland period. The baby, peacefully sleeping under the light of a lonely star - despite everything, Kent kept hope alive.

But above all this picture is interesting because while working on it, Rockwell Kent appeared before the public in an unexpected role: as a German spy.

In the town of Brigus, where Rockwell Kent settled, he had a rather trivial quarrel with a local pharmacist. Kent had never been at a loss for words and in the end even had to pay a $ 5 fine for a public promise to "kill and eat Mr. Hearn". It would seem that the incident was over, but after the pharmacist, a scoundrel and a drunkard, began to chat in pubs that Kent was a German spy, the locals drew their conclusions.

Kent kept himself at a distance. In his house there was a room (his studio), and the artist never let anyone in it. He always drew something – wasn’t it maps? Recently he had bought seven tons of coal – definitely for a German submarine. But the main thing, which many heard of, was that during the city’s festivities he sang in German: that’s exactly how experienced spies behave.

Tired of explaining himself, Kent hung a German flag with an eagle over his porch and deliberately began peppering his speech with sonorous German phrases.

When the authorities of St. James (the capital of Newfoundland) started an official investigation, things took a turn that was no joking matter. In the end, Kent was asked to leave the country together with his family. The portrait of a child was delayed, as the customs officers were convinced that there was either ciphered intelligence in it or the invasion plan hidden under the layer of paint. Having thought for a while, they finally let the artist take the painting. If they had known that Kent would give it to the Soviet government in the future, they surely would have thought again.

Author: Andrew Zimoglyadov
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About the artwork

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Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Landscape, Portrait, Nude

Style of art: Realism, Symbolism

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1914

Size: 54×72 cm

Artwork in selections: 4 selections

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