Donation of Painting by Vera Cumming (1921-1996)

Vera Cumming, Jamaican Girl (c1951), Collection: National Gallery of Jamaica, donated in the Artist’s Memory by the Haddad Family of Toronto

The National Gallery of Jamaica is pleased to announce the donation of the painting Jamaican Girl (c1951) by Vera Cumming to its collection. Jamaican Girl is the second painting by Vera Cumming in the National Collection; the first is her Supplication (1948), which currently hangs at the Institute of Jamaica.

Vera Cumming was a Canadian artist who was trained at the Ontario College of Art. An adventurous and progressive-minded young woman, she travelled to Jamaica around 1945, possibly at the encouragement of Jamaican artist Albert Huie, who was a fellow student at Ontario College of Art. She initially taught art at St Hugh’s High School and in 1947 started teaching adult art classes at the Institute of Jamaica’s Junior Centre. These art classes had been started by Edna Manley around 1940 and paved the way for the 1950 establishment of the Jamaica School of Art and Craft (which is now part of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts). The early students at the Junior Centre included Corah Hamilton, Vernal Reuben, David Pottinger, Henry Daley, Osmond Watson, Alexander Cooper, Ralph Campbell and Leonard Morris and the instructors included Edna Manley, Albert Huie, Cecil Baugh, and Vera Cumming. In 1949, Vera Cumming married the poet, journalist and literary critic Basil McFarlane (1922-2000), who had been among her students at the Junior Centre, but the marriage was short-lived and ended later that year.

Vera Cumming, Supplication (1948), Collection: National Gallery of Jamaica

Vera Cumming lived in Jamaica at a crucial time in the development of modern Jamaican art. The Junior Centre art classes served as a meeting ground for those young artists who were part of the emerging Jamaican School in the mid 20thcentury and who sought to articulate an indigenous aesthetic, taking the people, the culture and the physical environment of Jamaica as their subject. Vera Cumming’s Jamaican work reflects her close interaction with her students and peers and the angular forms, textural effects and psychologically charged atmosphere of her portraits suggests a particular affinity with the self-portraits of Henry Daley.

Henry Daley, The Artist (1945), Collection: National Gallery of Jamaica

Jamaican Girl is a portrait of a young woman set against a landscape. In the background to the left of her, a group of people has gathered and seem to be involved in a Revival ceremony – an aspect of Jamaica’s popular culture that had captured the imagination of several other artists of that generation. The woman seems oddly disengaged from the ceremony behind her but the sharp diagonal of her shoulders  and almost cubist distortion of her eyes add to the haunting psychological intensity of the scene and may even suggest her spiritual involvement in the rituals performed.

Vera Cumming left Jamaica in late 1949 and, after a short stint in Reading, United Kingdom, lived in Canada for the rest of her life. In Toronto, she taught at the University Settlement and later St Christopher House, two voluntary social service and educational institutions. She remained artistically active and continued teaching until the mid-1960s but suffered from worsening episodes of mental illness, which eventually became debilitating.

Lawrence Cumming (right) discusses the painting with NGJ board member Tamara Scott-Williams at the handing over ceremony on May 29, 2012.

Vera Cumming’s Jamaican Girl (c1951) was donated in her memory by Mrs Dianne Haddad and family of Toronto. Cumming had worked with Mrs Haddad’s late husband, John Haddad, at St Christopher House. The painting was probably painted after Vera Cumming left Jamaica and had been purchased by the Haddad family from the Eighty-first Annual Exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists in Toronto in 1953. This generous donation, which also involved the restoration of the work, was facilitated by Mr Lawrence Cumming, the nephew of the artist and her biographer, who was present at the NGJ for the official handing over of the painting on May 29, 2012.

We thank Mr Lawrence Cumming for kindly sharing his extensive biographical research on Vera Cumming with us.

One thought on “Donation of Painting by Vera Cumming (1921-1996)

  1. love this blog!
    there is a post i cannot find, that included a video entitled Astro: the Morning Star, posted by O’Neill… late May, after Calabash. Now I cannot find it in the archives.
    Please help!

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