There are two letters from Anne Redpath to Ruth Borchard, both dated June 1964, from her home in Edinburgh. In the first she wrote:
‘I am submitting to the charm of your scheme (or your letter) and am sending you… a self portrait in oil of me about 20-odd years ago. As you can imagine at 69 I don’t look like the portrait now, but it isn’t bad (I think) either as a picture or as a likeness to me then.’
On the side of the letter is a crucial afterthought:
‘the date would have to be marked as I shouldn’t like anyone to think I paint myself 20 years younger.’
The second letter contains a critical point, ‘Have marked the date on it!’ Ruth paid twenty guineas; the date is 1943.
Anne Redpath was born in 1895 at Galashiels, Selkirk. Her father, a talented pattern weaver, designed sober tweeds, with threads of vivid colour running through them. She later said:
‘I do with a spot of red or yellow in harmony of grey what my father did in his tweeds.’
During the 1920s, Redpath and her architect husband settled in the south of France. In 1934, her marriage over, she returned to live in Scotland, and paint full-time. Around 1942 she started painting still-life masterpieces of enchanting domestic intimacy and talented colourism.
A friend described a visit to Spain with Redpath in 1951:
‘Anne looked like Queen Victoria; black hair correctly parted in the centre and bun behind, but she wore colours!’
In the 1943 picture Anne indeed looks like Queen Victoria. The pink and blue tones of the scarf help lighten and joyously refresh what might seem a somewhat severe self-image.
Close observation dispels any initial impression of severity. The glossy flattened black hair actually contains some hints of blue and pink paint, as though even its dark sobriety was shot through with ‘colours’. The eyes themselves, steady in their gaze, are disquietingly dissimilar: the left appearing slightly milky and opaque, the right dark and penetrating.
The beauty of the figure in relief against the scumbled beige and white background, and her concentrated repose, create a subtle atmosphere of enigmatic reserve. Yet she was also an outgoing personality. Her self-portrait brings together seemingly disparate but inextricable parts of herself: her love of colour and liveliness against a background of rare sensitivity.