Gilbert Cannan (1884-1955) was a writer and dramatic critic and he lived in a converted windmill at Cholesbury in Buckinghamshire. This painting by Mark Gertler is a full-length portrait of Gilbert Cannan standing in front of his mill with his two dogs. This is a traditional subject but here it is also an ironic comment on traditional 18th century portraits of English gentlemen with their faithful hounds.
The large black dog on the right-hand side of Cannan is a Newfoundland dog called Luath and the large black and white dog to his left-hand side is a St Bernard dog called Porthos. Porthos originally belonged to JM Barrie and was used as the model for the dog Nana who looked after the children in Peter Pan.
Gilbert Cannan and his Mill is a radical reworking of a traditional theme and reflects Gertler’s interests in contemporary art of the period. Gertler has hardened the figures into geometrical shapes so that Gilbert Cannan almost has the appearance of a doll.
Mark Gertler was strongly influenced by the work he saw at the Post-Impressionist Exhibition organised by Roger Fry in London in 1912. In Gilbert Cannan and his Mill he has deliberately adopted an antinaturalistic modern style as can be seen in his use of strong vibrant colours and black outlines. We have to remember that earlier in his life Gertler was apprenticed to Clayton and Bell who were makers of stained glass in the East End. This too may have influenced his painting style.
Cholesbury, Hertfordshire . 1916 . Oil on Canvas . 99.5 x 70 cm . Bequeathed by Thomas Balston through The Art Fund . WA1968.24