Passers-by may have smiled at the scene as heavily pregnant Mollie Hinshelwood posed for a selfie with the painting of another mum-to-be.
If the art fans in Glasgow’s famous Kelvingrove Art Gallery looked a little closer they would have been intrigued further by the striking similarity between Hinshelwood and the expectant mum immortalised in oils in the painting called The 39th Week Counting.
The likeness is in fact more than just a coincidence because the woman in the painting is Hinshelwood’s mother, Alison Eldridge. And the baby she is carrying is her.
The work of art was created by award-winning artist Lesley Banks, Eldridge’s best friend. It shows Eldridge standing by a window in a tenement, lost in thought. On the table there is a candle, a jug and fruit. A curtain waves in the breeze.
In the background are neighbouring flats and the hills around Glasgow framed by a double rainbow. A man waves up from the back court below.
Hinshelwood, 29, who gave birth to healthy twin boys last month, stood in front of the painting in December, holding her swollen belly in a pose that mirrored her mum’s stance while a friend snapped a quick photograph on her phone.
Later that evening, Hinshelwood shared the picture with her mum and Banks, who studied at Glasgow School of Art in the 1980s. It was an emotional experience for the three women – and sparked an idea.
“When I saw that photograph of Mollie, the ‘bump’ in my painting, stand in front of the painting with her own bump, I knew immediately I had to paint Mollie pregnant too,” said Banks, 60.
“I’ve known Mollie all her life and she really is the daughter I never had. I have three sons, the eldest of whom, Jack, is just a few months older than Mollie. They spent their early years almost like siblings and are still friends.
“It’s been a rollercoaster of a pregnancy for Mollie, as she had a very difficult time early on with various complications. She only really started to relax and believe everything was going to be fine in the last couple of months.
“When she messaged with the photograph at Kelvingrove, she joked it was a case of ‘not The 39th Week And Counting but 27 weeks and trying to keep ’em in’.
“In the photo I was struck by how much Mollie looked like Ali. Everything about the scene took my breath away. It seemed to perfectly reflect the passage of time and the way the baton of motherhood passes on, that window just before a baby is born, which is such a special time.”
Realising she had a short time in which to paint her best friend’s daughter in a similar pose, Banks asked Hinshelwood if she could photograph her at the Glasgow flat she shares with her partner Sean McMenemy. Banks settled on a pose by their living-room window, mirroring the 1993 painting.
In the two months before twins Otis Alan and Jimmy Jet McMenemy were born by planned Caesarean section on February 16, Banks worked on a series of small studies for a bigger painting of Mollie.
“The label beside the painting in Kelvingrove says the painting is one of a series I made recording my pregnancy, as if it is a self-portrait,” said Banks. “But it is more complicated than that. Yes, it is about me – as I wanted to create work around being pregnant and particularly that very late stage of first pregnancy when your life as you know it is about to change.
“With Ali modelling in my flat at the time, in the space where I was pregnant with Jack and where he spent his early years, it felt like an amalgamation of us both. There was even a double rainbow outside, a visual embodiment of the hope we all feel at that point in pregnancy.”
For first-time grandmother Eldridge, having her daughter’s pregnancy captured for posterity by her best friend was the latest significant stage of a 35-year-long friendship.
“Lesley is like a sister to me,” said the 53-year-old academic who, with husband Alan Hinshelwood, also has a son, Finn.
“Lesley and I have been through some momentous occasions together, quite literally; births, deaths and marriages. She has an eye for making the everyday happenings of life extraordinary. Stories are told and lives are lived in all Lesley’s paintings.
“On Mollie’s first birthday, Lesley gave her a little study of the larger work now in Kelvingrove, which is in our living room. Mollie will have it in her own home at some point. On the back I have written a wee piece about it and said it belongs to Mollie.
“It’s certainly my face in this painting and in the Kelvingrove one. There is no denying the enormous bump. Mollie is coming soon but, for me, it is Lesley who waits by the window. She perfectly captures the stillness she felt in the last days of pregnancy; her sense of wonder and contemplation.
“When I look at the paintings of me, I see Lesley and me. More than that, I see our shared thoughts, fears and hopes as we wait for our children to be born. Here is a moment of our friendship, on the wall. Now, she has carried this friendship on to the next stage.
“It has been hugely emotional watching Mollie’s journey to motherhood. People ask me what it’s like being a grandmother. All I can say is it’s like a bond of instant love. In the space of a day, Mollie changed our world and this process does not stop. It feels particularly poignant to witness the birth of our grandsons since my own dad, John, died on Christmas Eve.
“Having Otis and Jimmy in our lives now is an extension of the love you feel for your own child. It just moves on. For me, it was love at first sight.”
Now Hinshelwood is looking forward to next weekend spending her first Mother’s Day as a mum with her partner and their sons.
“Lesley’s painting of my mum pregnant with me has always been there,” she said. “It has been a fun fact to tell people who don’t know me. Lesley has done something so special for our family by encapsulating in a painting the hope and the expectation that builds up in the few weeks before you become a parent for the first time.”
Painting her best friend’s daughter pregnant was like “revisiting the threads of the past” for the artist.
“Once I have finished the paintings of Mollie pregnant, I’ll give her a wee study,” said Banks, “just like she has the one of her mum pregnant with her. It would be nice to see the bigger version hang in Kelvingrove once it is complete but who knows? Right now, I’m thinking I’ll paint Mollie’s babies.”
Read Jan Patience‘s art column in P.S. Magazine every Sunday
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