William John Leech (1881-1968)
A Convent Garden, Brittany, c. 1913
Oil on canvas, 132 x 106 cm
Presented, May Botterell, 1952
A novice is shown deep in spiritual meditation. With prayer book in hand she gazes upward as if in direct communication with Heaven itself. Behind, in the shadows of a tree-lined walled garden, are a group of nuns, walking in prayer. While they are dressed in plain religious garb, the novice is robed like a bride. Novices traditionally wore bridal costume on the day they took their final vows, as a symbol of becoming brides of Christ.
Sunlight streams into the garden. It falls on the lace habit and bonnet of the young novice, revealing the slim, elegant form beneath. The garment's delicate shades of mauve and lilac, as well as white and green, reflect the colour of the flowers and grass close by. The thick strokes of colour show Leech's interest in Impressionism and also suggest the influence of Van Gogh. This is offset, however, by the careful drawing and paintwork in the girl's figure. Her stillness set against the waving leaves and grass provides an interesting note of contrast in the picture.
The setting is Concarneau in Brittany. This picturesque part of France held a special attraction for Leech, as it did for many other artists. He visited the area frequently between 1903 and 1917. In 1904 Leech contracted typhoid and convalesced in a local hospital run by the Sisters of the Holy Ghost. It is this garden which is represented in the picture. The model for the novice is Elizabeth Saurine, the artist's first wife.
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