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Portrait of James Hanley

Gladys Vasey, 1951 - 1952

WAG 2005.14

About this object

James Hanley (born in 1897, died in 1985) was a Liverpool-born, novelist and playwright of Irish descent. He is one of the best-regarded writers of working-class fiction in British history. His writing explored both the extreme and everyday conditions and experiences of working class people and communities. Many of his best-known works, including his semi-autobiographical series of five ‘Fury’ novels were set in Liverpool, at Kirkdale and the docks.

Hanley came from a seafaring family. He joined the merchant navy himself when seventeen, before jumping ship and joining the Canadian Army. He fought in the First World War, returning to Liverpool in 1918. Several of his novels and short stories published in the 1930s and 1940s, focused on seamen and their families.

Two of Hanley’s major works address themes of sexual desire and sexual violence amongst men at sea and at war. ‘Boy’ (1931), for example, is a deeply disturbing novel about Arthur Fearon, a working-class thirteen-year-old from Liverpool who stows away on a ship called The Hernian. After he is found half-dead by a crewman, the sailors treat Fearon like a slave and physically and sexually abuse him. In Hanley’s equally harrowing ‘The German Prisoner’, two British working-class infantry men capture a German soldier and subject him to sexual and physical torture. In the scene where they finally kill the soldier, Hanley presents the violence as if it were an act of homosexual congress transformed into torture.

Hanley’s depictions of sexual violence contrast strongly with the portrayals of tender, romantic homosexual love and desire between soldiers, by other writers of the period. Indeed, such overt and detailed accounts of homosexual desire and sexual violence were exceedingly rare. Censorship rules around homosexual and violent content were severe at the time these books were published. ‘The German Prisoner’ was only produced as a luxury edition and privately printed to allow its content to bypass conventional publication laws and escape censorship. ‘Boy’, on the other hand, became the subject of a famous obscenity trail, was judged an ‘obscene libel’ and remained banned for almost sixty years. E M Forster, a great admirer of Hanley’s work, addressed the 1935 Paris Writers’ Congress appealing for fellow writers to oppose the ban.

This portrait was painted by the self-taught artist Gladys Vasey between 1951 and 1953. Vasey appears to have initiated the painting of the portrait herself. Vasey lived on the Wirral for some time. However, she first met Hanley sometime after her move to Llanyblodwel, North Wales, in 1943. Hanley lived at the nearby village of Llanfechain. Liam Hanley, the author’s son presented the portrait to the Walker Art Gallery in 2005.

Object specifics

  • Artist(s)
    Gladys Vasey (British, born:1889-06-08, died:1981-01-22)
    Michael Rodney Tyzack (British: English, born:1933-08-03, died:2007-02-11)
    Gladys Vasey (British, born:1889-06-08, died:1981-01-22)
  • Date
    1951 - 1952
  • Materials
    medium and technique = oil; support = canvas
  • Measurements
    61 cm x 61 cm; 24 in x 24 in
  • Physical description
    Half-length, seated portrait of a man with brown wavy hair. He wears a green/beige suit and a blue bow-tie. He looks directly at the viewer and has one eyebrow raised. His right hand rests on a table and his left on the arm of the chair.
  • Related people
    Elizabeth Berridge (Previous owner); James Hanley (Previous owner); Liam Hanley (Previous owner); Raymond Moore (Previous owner); Michael Rodney Tyzack (Artist/maker); Gladys Vasey (Artist/maker)
  • Credit line
    Presented by Mr Liam Hanley, 2005
  • Location
    Item not currently on display
  • Collection
    From the World Museum collections

Ownership

Previous owners

  • Liam Hanley

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: By descent from James Hanley
    Owned until: 2015-03
    Disposal method: Presented to the Walker Art Gallery in March 2005
  • James Hanley

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Presented to James Hanley by the previous owners Raymond Moore and Elizabeth Berridge
    Owned until: Unknown or unrecorded
    Disposal method: passed by descent to Liam Hanley
  • Raymond Moore

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Acquired from the artist by Raymond Moore and Elizabeth Berridge
    Owned until: Unknown or unrecorded
    Disposal method: Presented to James Hanley (the sitter)
  • Elizabeth Berridge

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Acquired from the artist by Raymond Moore and Elizabeth Berridge
    Owned until: Unknown or unrecorded
    Disposal method: Presented to James Hanley (the sitter)

Inscriptions

Item inscriptions

  • Inscription text: Vasey
    Inscription method:
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: Lower left corner
Object view = Fine Art
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