Today we have a large oil portrait of Berthe Girola Anderson of Rockville, painted by C. Law Watkins and donated by Mrs. Anderson’s sons, Thomas and George.

Berthe Girola AndersonBerthe* Girola was born in 1902 in Neuchatel, Switzerland.  In the early 1920s she came to Rockville to work as companion/governess/French tutor for Mary Parrish Bradley (1911-1993), daughter of Joseph and Ann Bradley.  Rockville society agreed with Berthe, and in 1929 she married Thomas Minor Anderson, Sr.; the reception was held at the Bradley home on Rockville Pike (now owned by Woodmont Country Club), and, the Girolas being unable to travel from Switzerland, the Bradleys gave the bride away.  After marriage, the Andersons lived in Rockville; Berthe died in 1980.

Berthe Girola (at right) and Mary Bradley, 1926. Donated by the Anderson family.

Berthe Girola (at right) and Mary Bradley, 1926. Donated by the Anderson family.

Thanks to donations from the two Anderson sons, we have a number of photos, artifacts, and archival odds and ends related to Berthe’s life – she’s often featured in our exhibits, has been mentioned here before, and likely will be represented in both physical and digital displays again in the near future – but let’s change directions somewhat and talk about the portrait painter, rather than the subject.

Mary Parrish Bradley, Berthe’s former pupil, began studying painting at the Phillips Gallery Art School in the late 1930s.  She had a few exhibitions around DC, and an article in 1941 noted that the Phillips Memorial Gallery (now the Phillips Collection) was “very interested in her work.”  In 1942, she married C. Law Watkins, one of her instructors.  Mr. Watkins (1886-1945) was Phillips Collection founder Duncan Phillips’ college roommate. In the late 1920s Watkins left the coal business, and joined the Phillips as Deputy Director and teacher.  (Here’s a nice summary of his career with both the Phillips Gallery and the art school at American University, where the Watkins Gallery is named in his honor.) He and Mary, his second wife, had one son before Mr. Watkins’ unexpected death in 1945.

Though he was perhaps better known for his work as deputy director of the Phillips – including a large exhibition, which later traveled to the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair, on “Emotional Design in Art” – Watkins was himself an artist, like his wife Mary. A review of a memorial exhibition at the Phillips, published in the Washington Post on May 6, 1945, noted, “[Watkins] never advanced his own work, in fact seldom showed it.  Many of his paintings and drawings he regarded as experimental, for use in his teaching rather than finished products in themselves.”

Our portrait of Berthe Anderson is oil on canvas, in an angular, silver-painted wood frame.  The work is unsigned, but according to the donors it was painted by Mr. Watkins around 1944.  (It’s also possible that the painting is by Mary Watkins herself; a number of paintings by both Mary and her husband are owned by the Phillips, so a future comparison to each artist’s work is not out of the question.) At any rate, not having tried my hand at art criticism since Art History 101, I’ll restrict my commentary to: It’s a charming painting – I particularly like the contrast of Berthe’s floral dress and chic hairdo with the old-fashioned chair in which she’s sitting – and it’s certainly a bright spot of color amongst our other, rather gloomy Victorian portraits.

*Her children spelled it Berthy; friends and neighbors in Rockville called her Betty.

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