Core Holdings of the Tormey-Holder Collection: Ethel M. Willis
A Roman Catholic Cardinal in Profile View
by Ethel Mary Willis, ARMS (1874-1972)
4 inches diameter
watercolor on ivory; housed in a gilt metal surround
Though Ethel Willis was English, she painted this portrait while in Paris
(as noted in her signature, which reads "E. M. Willis, Paris, 04")
This miniature was not intended by Willis to depict a specific cardinal and was not painted from a live sitting. Rather, titled by the artist as simply "A Cardinal" (inscribed on the reverse of the portrait), it was intended to be an artistic character study, inspired by earlier photographs and engravings of the late Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890).
Willis exhibited this miniature portrait at the Paris Salon, the Walker Gallery (Liverpool), the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours (London), and the Royal Society of Miniature Painters (London).
About the Artist: The second of three children born to Thomas Willis (1836-1916) and Mary Jane Sasse (1846-1925), Ethel Mary Willis was born in 1874, in Victorian era London. Her interest in art was no doubt influenced by her father, who was both a successful London tea dealer and an avid art collector. She was afforded an enviable education, both at home and abroad. In London, she attended first the Royal College of Art, followed by post graduate studies at the Slade School of Fine Arts. Afterwards, she further honed her skills at the avant-garde Académie Delecluse in Paris. While in Paris, she also became a private pupil of the esteemed French miniaturist Madame Debillemont-Chardon (Gabrielle Debillemont-Chardon, 1860-1957), who had a large influence on Miss Wilis' painting style.
She exhibited regularly from 1900 to 1939 in both London and Paris; and she supplemented her income as a painter by offering private lessons in drawing and painting. Following the death of her parents, she lived out the remainder of her life with her sister, Eleanor Elizabeth Willis (also a spinster), in the Willis family home, located in London's affluent Chiswick district. There, she died in 1945, at the age of 70. Listed by Arturi Phillips (page 168), Benezit, Blättel (pages 966, 967) and Foskett (page 677).