Pilade Bertieri, Alison Johnstone

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All rights reserved)


Country House
Alison Johnstone
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 150 cm, Overall width: 100 cm
Pilade Bertieri (1874-1965)
Catalogue Number


Alison Johnstone (1890–1978) was born at Ladock, Cornwall, the daughter of the Reverend William Stamford Raffles Flint (1847–1925), who became Archdeacon of Cornwall, and Ethel Maud Quentin. In 1910 she married George Horace Johnstone (1882–1960) of Trewithen, and their third child, Jennifer (b. 1921), was the mother of the present owner of Trewithen. The couple was responsible for cultivating and enhancing the gardens with new species of exotic plants. The journal of the Royal Horticultural Society published a memorial article on George Johnstone’s gardening, and a sense of his personality can be gleaned from the remark, ‘As the owner often said, the lives of his plants tended to be short and gay on a diet of champagne and oysters.’1 George named a rhododendron variety ‘Mrs Alison Johnstone' after his wife.2

This elegant portrait is typical of the portraiture of the Italian painter Pilade Bertieri (1874–1965). Bertieri trained at the Royal Academies of Art at Turin and Bergamo, and developed a career as a society portraitist. As a young man Bertieri exhibited at the Paris Salon and spent ‘winters’ in New York, where he married Miss Wilson of New York, in late April 1906, after which the pair ‘sailed for Europe’.3 By 1908 he had a London address and exhibited five pictures at the Royal Academy between 1908 and 1918.4 Bertieri’s English sitters included the Duke of Newcastle and the Countess of Bradford.

The present portrait was reviewed and illustrated in The Studio in September 1914 (fig. 1), where it was stated: ‘[Bertieri’s] portrait of Mrs G. H. Johnstone is excellent in its spontaneity and freshness of manner, and both in its elegance of design and as a pleasant piece of characterization it can be heartily praised’.5

Bertieri’s portraiture rivalled the more flamboyant style of his fellow Italian, Giovanni Boldini (1842–1931), and both artists were clearly influenced by the work of the European-trained American painter John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). This portrait in particular shows expertly rendered suspended drapery, reminiscent of Sargent’s styling of the Countess of Suffolk (fig. 2), which in turn paraphrases the handling of drapery by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, whose work Sargent also admired.

The inventory of March 1928 located the picture in the Drawing Room, describing it as ‘Portrait of Mrs Johnstone by Pilade Bertieri 1913 – nearly full length, diaphanous costume, blue sash – 54in by 39in –’.

September 1914, p. 231.

Figure 1.
Review, The Studio: An Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Art, September 1914, p. 231.

1898. Oil on canvas, 228.6 × 119.4 cm. Kenwood House, London (88029718).

Figure 2.
John Singer Sargent, Miss Daisy Leiter, Later Margaret Hyde, 19th Countess of Suffolk, 1898. Oil on canvas, 228.6 × 119.4 cm. Kenwood House, London (88029718).

Digital image courtesy of Historic England Archive. (All rights reserved)

by Emily Burns


  1. John H. B. Irving, The Hawkins of Trewithen: Their Ancestors and their Descendants, Castle Cary: Castle Cary Press, 1990, p. 23.

  2. Diana Baskervyle-Glegg, ‘A Visit to Cornish Gardens’, Garden History, vol. 4, no. 2 (Summer 1976), p. 6.

  3. American Art News, vol. 4, no. 30 (5 May 1906), p. 3.

  4. Catalogue notes, Sotheby’s 19th Century European Art Sale, New York, 18 April 2007 (56).

  5. The Studio, September 1914, p. 230.


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