When i first visited my husband's family home in 1983 I was surprised to see an enormous life-size portrait of a woman leaning against a wall in their living room. Like everyone else who sees the painting for the first time, I said "Who is that?" My then future husband, Joe McCall, told me it was his Great-Aunt Honor. He had heard that she was an interesting and unconventional woman but he did not know many details about her life. The oil painting is six and one-half feet tall and three feet wide and it shows a woman in a long gown that is falling slightly off her shoulders. The most unusual feature is that she is holding a large peacock feather diagonally across her body (Fig. 1). When I first saw the painting it was so dark and dirty that the artist's signature was not visible, and no one in the family knew who the artist was. The canvas was hanging loosely in a plain black wooden frame and it was torn in one spot. Still, there was something about the expression in her eyes and the luminosity of her skin that made me feel it was special.
When my husband inherited the painting earlier this year we took it to be restored, a process we were told would take several months. Meanwhile, I decided to write a short biography about Honor to keep with the portrait so that future generations of our family would know who she was. The information I discovered has gradually brought Honor to life.
Lois McCall, my husband's ninety-year-old aunt by marriage, is the last living member of our family to have known Honor. Lois has a remarkable memory and was happy to share her genealogy records and old family photographs. It was she who told me that Honor had been friends with the Irish novelist George Moore and that he had written a story about her called "Euphorion in Texas." After reading the story I found a 1992 article in ELT called "On His Honor: George Moore and Some Women" by Adrian Frazier.1 The article explored the relationships [End Page 139] Moore had with several women, but especially his relationship with my husband's great-aunt, Honor Woulfe. I was thrilled to read the part about Honor and Moore discussing their portraits because the portrait she described was clearly the same one my husband had inherited. She also mentioned that the artist was Charles Courtney Curran (1861-1942), a noted American impressionist painter. His works are displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among others.2
The same issue of ELT also included a never-before-published essay called "George Moore and the Amenities" that Honor wrote several years after his death.3 No one in the family knew about the essay and we enjoyed getting to hear Honor's "voice" as she spoke fondly about her friend.
In March 2012 I sent an email to Professor Frazier because I thought news of Honor's portrait might be of interest to him. Over the next several months I sent him copies of the family photographs I found and kept him updated on my search for details about Honor's life. The information I have about Moore and his work comes from Professor Frazier and the following is a result of our combined research.
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When George Moore's "Euphorion in Texas" was first published in 1914 it was greeted with skepticism by literary critics. In the story a young woman from Texas travels to Ireland to ask an author she admires to be the father of her child so that she can "bring literature to Texas." It seemed to be autobiographical and was included in later versions of Memoirs of My Dead Life, but many people found the premise hard to believe. Critics debated whether or not the character [End Page 140...