A Portrait of Nina Hamnett, The Courtauld Gallery, London


Roger Fry (1866-1934)

This painting caught my eye on a recent visit to The Courtauld Gallery.  I was drawn by the elegance of this serious and intelligent looking person.  With her dated roll neck sweater and a-line skirt sporting what would today be considered a ‘bad’ hair cut, she nevertheless carried a beauty despite the almost skeletal bone structure of her cheekbones and wrists and the self-protective posture. Born in Wales in 1890, a Bohemian artist and writer, Nina Hamnett was not exactly what you’d call an example of godliness.  She was a flamboyantly unconventional, sexually liberal divorcee who suffered from alcoholism and died after falling out of her apartment window and being impaled on the railings below.  Her last words are said to have been: ‘Why don’t they let me die?’ To discover that this woman endured such a painful life makes the portrait that much more moving.   But what is it that makes it beautiful?  Might it be that Nina Hamnett was, as the bible puts it,  made in the image of God; was ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ and was one of the Creator’s ‘wonderful works’ (Psalm 139)? Perhaps this is what Roger Fry has unwittingly captured in this portrait.   How much more does God see in us the potential for beauty that lies behind our brokenness and shame.  How might our portrait appear the hands of the Divine Artist?