Further Thoughts on Portrait of Jennie (1948)
At the beginning of this film we hear a voice-over of artist Eben Adams (played by actor Joseph Cotten) reciting an overview of his present state of despair. Adams calls it "a winter of the mind," a time which author Robert Nathan describes (through Cotten's distinctive voice) as follows:
"There is a sort of desperation which takes hold of a man
after a while, a dreadful feeling of the world's indifference,
not only to his hunger or his pain, but to the very life
which is in him."
One senses the bleakness of the artist's predicament, having sold so few paintings and facing the consistent pressure of providing for rent, food and the basic necessities needed for survival. The film paints a somber portrait through the deserted scenes at Central Park, highlighting the artist's struggle to keep alive amidst a season of discouragement.
The Gallery Scene with Matthews and Miss Spinney
This is one of the most fascinating scenes in the entire film, with superlative performances by Ethel Barrymore as Miss Spinney and Cecil Kellaway as Matthews. When Eben Adams enters the gallery we almost immediately sense his rather desperate situation. He wonders if the gallery might be interested in buying some of his pictures. When Matthews offers to take a look at the artist's portfolio, he rather dismissively states, "Of course, we buy very little....almost nothing....and the times being what they are...." Cecil Kellaway perfectly demonstrates the noble, elegant demeanor of the professional gallery owner who is not overly impressed with a relatively unknown artist in the competitive field of Art sales. Matthews barely has the time or patience to deal with the forlorn Mr. Adams, brushing quickly aside the examples of "bridges....landscapes....flowers," for which there is apparently no contemporary market.
The Entrance of Miss Spinney into the Conversation
When Miss Spinney comes over to meet Mr. Adams, we sense that the artist is already retreating into his shell of protective obscurity, having been suitably discouraged by the professional gallery assistant (Matthews). She says that Adams "...needn't be defensive about" mentioning his name or simply introducing himself. As she looks through his uninspired collection of paintings and drawings, she finds one that she likes and decides to purchase it for $1.25, a first sale in ages for the grateful artist. The sale has an electric effect upon Adams, though Matthews says to Miss Spinney (after Adams leaves) that it's not worth the money. To which she replies, "No, but Mr. Adams is." This perspective offers profound insight into the art of encouragement.