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"Portrait of Annabelle Sturtevant, Heiress to the Gro-Rite Fertilizer Fortune"

Henri "Le Jardinier" Rowhoe

Apprenticed at an early age to learn the gardening and landscaping trade, Rowhoe never moved in the same circles as other fin-de-siècle artists in spite of the growing recognition of his work near the end of his life. Entirely self taught, he would always keep a canvas and bucket of oils and brushes amid the rakes and forks and tillers of his trade, much to the amusement of his co-workers, who on more than one occasion were heard to remark, "Hein! This Henri, he is too good for us, you think? Him and his painting affectation, zut alors! He would be better off chewing a crust of bread like the rest of us at noon, and downing a bottle of vin ordinaire, afterwards snoozing under a bush until the overseer arrives to belabor us with his staff and call us worthless sons of dogs...."

The painting shown here was done for a contest sponsored by the British Gro-Rite Fertilizer Company to raise its image in the community. A prize of £1,000 was offered to the artist who could paint the best portrait of Miss Sturtevant in a setting that also promoted the product. Rowhoe sent in his entry along with the required number of boxtops from Gro-Rite "UppenAtom" brand lawn food. Never having seen the heiress in person, and unable to find a photograph, he simply sketched a generic female form in the height of Victorian fashion, then added the face from one of the bags of fertilizer that proudly featured a portrait of the firm's founder, the grandfather of the heiress. In his pursuit of familial realism the artist included the old gentleman's military moustache. 

Unsurprisingly he was not awarded the Academy prize and the monetary award for the painting. He was, however, given a contract to illustrate the 1901 Gro-Rite product catalog as the previous illustrator, a Monsieur Toulouse-Lautrec, had recently died of absinthe poisoning in the arms of a dwarf chorus girl from the Moulin Rouge. He accepted the commision and became the company's chief illustrator. Having failed, in his eyes, to become a recognized Academy painter, he later hanged himself on a False Acacia in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.


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