When this work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1931, the eminent art critic Frank Rutter declared that ‘Harold Harvey has never to my recollection done anything better than his little half-length ‘Kitty’, which has an intensity and vital quality sadly lacking in most of the larger portraits’.[1]

Harold Harvey was born in Penzance in Cornwall and was a prominent member of the Newlyn School, an artist colony established in the 1880s which predominantly focussed on themes of everyday life in coastal and rural villages. Harvey’s early works follow the Newlyn School tradition of working-life narrative with typically sombre colouring, although by 1910 his palette brightened, and subjects were painted in an increasingly simplified manner.

It wasn’t until the 1920s when Harvey began to exhibit interior scenes at the Royal Academy that his talents as a figurative painter became widely recognised. These later works are characterised by bold, saturated colouring and a smooth, almost sculptural treatment of...

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When this work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1931, the eminent art critic Frank Rutter declared that ‘Harold Harvey has never to my recollection done anything better than his little half-length ‘Kitty’, which has an intensity and vital quality sadly lacking in most of the larger portraits’.[1]

Harold Harvey was born in Penzance in Cornwall and was a prominent member of the Newlyn School, an artist colony established in the 1880s which predominantly focussed on themes of everyday life in coastal and rural villages. Harvey’s early works follow the Newlyn School tradition of working-life narrative with typically sombre colouring, although by 1910 his palette brightened, and subjects were painted in an increasingly simplified manner.

It wasn’t until the 1920s when Harvey began to exhibit interior scenes at the Royal Academy that his talents as a figurative painter became widely recognised. These later works are characterised by bold, saturated colouring and a smooth, almost sculptural treatment of the human form. In the present painting, this sculptural treatment is evidently employed in the modelling of the sitter and her costume.

Frank Rutter’s glowing endorsement of this painting was echoed the following year when it was exhibited at the galleries of Frost and Reed in Bristol. The local art critic writing for The Western Daily Press commended his life studies and highlighted Kitty as the most impressive on view;

His life studies are exceptionally good, and one of the most outstanding is “Kitty” … a wonderful life-like expression has been secured, and there is a warmth and softness about the painting that is pleasing to the eye.[2]

The subject of this portrait was a young local girl named Kitty Batten who regularly posed for Harvey and who appears in a number of his notable works, including The Blue Door, Rima and The Young Menage. Kitty’s gaze and expression seems to fleet between that of somewhat innocent apprehension towards, and contrasting awareness and bold acknowledgment of, her viewer. Harvey sensitively captures this pre-adolescent psychological development of self-awareness and a changing perception of others. Youth and innocence were themes which fascinated Harvey throughout his career, and the present work seems to explore this individual’s sense of identity, at the complex moment between childhood and adolescence.

[1] Rutter, F. ‘Royal Academy’, The Sunday Times, 3 May 1931, p.13

[2] (1932) ‘Harold Harvey’s Works at Frost and Reed’s.’, The Western Daily Press Bristol, 16th September, p.5.

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500 Years of British Art