Phoebe Ellen Willmott married James Longhurst of Farnham in 1869 and the couple moved to 38 West Street which is now the Museum of Farnham. The painting is dated 1915 but Phoebe died in November 1914. We have no way of knowing if the portrait was commissioned before Phoebe’s death and William Herbert Allen was able to make initial studies from life, or if James commissioned the painting after her death as a memorial to his wife of 45 years. It is possible that Phoebe’s image was made from a photograph. Her painting certainly has a different skin quality to that of James’s paired portrait, which is very lifelike.
William Herbert Allen was for many years the Director of Farnham Art School (now University for the Creative Arts). Allen was strongly influenced by William Morris and was saddened by the rapid urbanisation at the turn of the twentieth century that was changing the face and character of the local landscape. His main legacy is the collection of his paintings, drawings and watercolours depicting the landscape and working people of the Surrey and North Hampshire borders. However, the Longhurst painting is evidence that he was also a skilful portrait painter.
Where to see this painting?
Museum of Farnham
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