John Alexander Gilfillan (1793-1864)
The artist's mother Eliza Gilfillan, and his second wife, Mary Gilfillan (née Bridges), in an interior
pencil and watercolour heightened with white on paper
1838 x 1414 in. (46.8 x 36.2 cm.)
The present watercolour relates closely to the smaller watercolour by Gilfillan of his widowed mother and his first wife Sarah, now in the Sarjeant Gallery, Wanganui (1943/1/1). The Wanganui watercolour was gifted by Dr H. W. Wilson and Mr J.P. Wilson, and two labels on its later backing board identify the sitters ('Eliza Gilfillan, mother's great aunt' - on a deleted label - and 'Sarah Murray, Gilfillan's fist wife at the spinning wheel'), presumably transcribed from earlier inscriptions by the artist's descendants. Gilfillan lived with his widowed mother in Scotland after his discharge from the navy in 1816, and married his 15-year-old cousin Sarah Murray in Glasgow on 31 July 1826. Sarah, who had four children, died in childbirth in 1837, and Gilfillan married another cousin, Mary Bridges, in 1838. It seems likely that the present watercolour reworks the Wanganui interior, replacing his first wife Sarah with his second wife Mary, with whom Gilfillan and his young family emigrated to New Zealand in 1841. Mary and three of Gilfillan's children were massacred by Maori at their farmhouse in the Matawara Valley, seven miles outside Wanganui, in 1847. Another infant daughter died in the aftermath while Gilfillan and his daughter were recovering in Wanganui.
Mary Cuthbert Macfadzean, St Kilda Drive, Glasgow, and by descent to the present owner.
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