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Object: In fancy dress

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Title In fancy dress
Production Richardson, H Linley (artist), circa 1930, Palmerston North
Medium summary oil on canvas
Materials oil paint, canvas
Classification paintings
Dimensions Support: 878mm (Height) x 1105mm (Width)
Sight: 870mm (Height) x 1100mm (Width)
Frame: 1090mm (Height) x 1320mm (Width) x 80mm (Depth)
Credit line Purchased 1948
Registration number 1948-0005-3

H. Linley Richardson, In Fancy Dress (a.k.a. Party, Christmas Eve), about 1930, Te Papa

In its absence of religious content, H. Linley Richardson’s painting, In Fancy Dress, takes us closer to the spirit of Christmases that most of us experience today. That said, its period elegance, evocative of the Noel Coward era, pre-dates the lifespans of anyone but the very elderly. We meet the artist, immaculate in white tie, and his three daughters clad in shimmering silk dresses, assembled for a special occasion. But what it was we do not know. The life-sized scale, static poses and strangely unanimated expressions of the figures only heighten the enigma. Cynthia, the youngest daughter, wears wings and bears a silver-starred wand. She is a living version of the fairy at the top of the Christmas tree, while her face has an endearingly pudding-like shape. Although Richardson’s biographer, Jane Vial, plays down the Christmas aspects, when it was bought by the National Art Gallery, forerunner of Te Papa, soon after Richardson’s death, the painting went under the title of Party, Christmas Eve. Yet it would be pushing it to claim that the Richardsons are having a merry Christmas!

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