Born in England, the artist Anne Langton (1804-1893) is best known for her time in Canada, where she moved with her family in 1837. The Langtons settled on the frontier in Upper Canada, present day Ontario, where Anne recorded both the difficult and joyous times (in her drawings and written journals) within a close-knit pioneer community.[1] Her devotion to literary reflections whilst in Canada has provided a rich understanding of Anne’s life, as well of the ‘gentlemen and women’ who adapted to a more primitive lifestyle. As Anne herself stated, her journals and sketches gave ‘some sort of a notion what this world of ours is like.’[2]

At Anne’s birth, her prosperity and genteel status appeared permanent. Her father, Thomas Langton (1770-1838), had established himself in the hemp and flax trade and with the fortune he acquired, purchased Blythe Hall, near Ormskirk. It is within this exquisite mansion that Anne was raised. In 1815, when Anne was eleven, the family...

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Born in England, the artist Anne Langton (1804-1893) is best known for her time in Canada, where she moved with her family in 1837. The Langtons settled on the frontier in Upper Canada, present day Ontario, where Anne recorded both the difficult and joyous times (in her drawings and written journals) within a close-knit pioneer community.[1] Her devotion to literary reflections whilst in Canada has provided a rich understanding of Anne’s life, as well of the ‘gentlemen and women’ who adapted to a more primitive lifestyle. As Anne herself stated, her journals and sketches gave ‘some sort of a notion what this world of ours is like.’[2]

At Anne’s birth, her prosperity and genteel status appeared permanent. Her father, Thomas Langton (1770-1838), had established himself in the hemp and flax trade and with the fortune he acquired, purchased Blythe Hall, near Ormskirk. It is within this exquisite mansion that Anne was raised. In 1815, when Anne was eleven, the family took off on a tour of the cultural centres of Europe to enhance their children’s education and awareness. Yet the collapse of the family business in 1821 abruptly ended the Langton family’s ardent pursuit of culture and learning. Blythe Hall was hastily sold, and the family moved to a small house in Liverpool, where Anne’s marriageable years were steeped in escalating poverty. Throughout the 1820’s and 30’s, Langton grew familiar with the use of watercolour on ivory, the medium through which she created her miniature portraits. She had been introduced to this technique in Paris, and had continued to receive training under Thomas Hargreaves, R.A (1774-1847), a notable miniaturist working in Liverpool. Despite adversity, Anne incessantly devoted herself to art, providing testimony to her claim as an artist in her own right.[3]

The present work was executed in 1832, five years before Anne emigrated to Canada to improve their financial situation. During this time, Langton took to painting miniature portraits to finance her own needs, much to her father’s disdain.[4] Although the majority of her extant portrait miniatures portray her immediate family, the sitter here can be identified as Martha Bellingham, and may have represented an important paid commission for Langton. John Langton, Anne’s brother (who eventually became Canada's first Auditor General) had moved to Canada in 1833 and it may be that he took this miniature with him the year after it was painted. From John’s journals, it would appear that Martha Bellingham married General Walsh, an acquaintance of Langton’s brother. [5] According to the journals of John Langton, it appears that Martha Bellingham’s family resided with the Langton’s during their backwoods years in Ontario, before moving to Peterborough, and were likely linked to Sydney Robert Bellingham (1808-1900), an important figure in early Canadian politics who helped to build one of Canada’s first railways.[6] Furthermore, a hamlet named ‘Walsh’ in Norfolk County, Ontario, may have been named after the family. The portrait here may have been a commission to celebrate the marriage.

[1] "Archives of Ontario - Anne Langton: Back in Britain". www.archives.gov.on.ca.

[2] http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/langton_anne_12E.html [accessed 07/10/2020]

[3] A Gentlewoman in Upper Canada: The Journals, Letters and Art of Anne Langton (review), Katherine M.J. McKenna [accessed 07/10/2020]

[4] http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/langton_anne_12E.html [accessed 07/10/2020]

[5] Ed. W. A. Langton, Early Days in Upper Canada: The Letters of John Langton/ From the backwoods of Upper Canada and the Audit Office of the Province of Canada, Toronto, 1926, P. 69

[6] For more information see W. Hesler, Sydney Bellingham's Canada: People, Places and Events in the Middle Half of the 19th Century, 2019

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500 Years of British Art