Born in 1890, Doris (Dod) Shaw moved with her mother and brother to the Cornish town of Newlyn to enrol in Stanhope Forbes' School of Painting. Well known for it's plein-air and genre painting the school attracted students from across the country, including Ernest Procter. Meeting at the school, Ernest and Dod fell deeply in love, however had to wait until 1912 to marry due to Dod's youthful age.
During World War I Ernest saw active service in France while Dod looked after their baby son, Bill, and continued to paint amongst the artistic community in Cornwall. On Ernest's return a chance encounter with the Chinese merchant, Lim Ching Tsong in a Newlyn hotel, led to the couple being commissioned to decorate his Palace in Rangoon, Burma with a set of murals. Enticed by a lucrative offer and the chance of adventure Ernest and Dod left Bill with the nanny and embarked on Christmas Eve 1919 for Burma. Their wealthy patron proved to be a difficult client and did not pay the sum that had been agreed, however the Procters took advantage of their circumstances and travelled extensively, exploring the Irrawaddy river by boat and the exotic delights of Mandalay. 'Life is going to be extraordinarily thrilling after the end of August - we are going up the river as far as Bhamo which is on the borders of China' (A. James, A Singular Vision, Dod Procter 1890-1972, p. 65).
The year spent in Burma had a lasting effect on Dod's work. Freed to concentrate on painting, without domestic distraction, her confidence grew and with it a simplification that gave her work a greater immediacy. In her correspondences home she admits that 'I am beginning to really get hold of the Burmese face - strong and splendid profiles and the babies - always naked - are lovely' (ibid, p. 63.). As well as technically improving, her portraits increasingly showed an empathy towards the sitter, imbuing her paintings with a simple yet insightful dignity.
On their return to Cornwall Dod continued to develop this new found authority, particularly in the evolution of single figure, full-length portraits, culminating in Dod's most celebrated painting Morning. Completed in 1926, this work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1927 to great critical acclaim. Purchased by the Daily Mail and gifted to the nation this work remains one of the most emblematic images of a peaceful innocence untouched by the iconoclasm of the Great War.
In 1922 the Procters moved into a new home at North Corner in Newlyn and it was here that Dod painted the present work. The dresser depicted in the background with its colourful china was in the dining room at North Corner and it is believed that the parrot in the painting was in fact Dod's own pet bird. Although the girl in the painting is not identified she bears a striking resemblance to Lilian who sat for two paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1923, titled Lilian (Jerwood Gallery, Hastings) and Girl in a Red Cap (private collection) of the same year.
In 1924 Dod started to exhibit in America, showing Brother and Sister at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. The assistant curator at the time wrote that her work was 'acclaimed as a distinct and unusual contribution to the English section' (J. O'Connor, 'Paintings by Dod Procter', The Carnegie Magazine, 1924, p. 209). Girl a with Parrot was exhibited the following year in 1925 and only came back into the public domain almost 80 years after it was exhibited at the Carnegie Institute, when the University Club of Pittsburgh closed as a private members club and sold the painting in November 2004.
The bright orange textile hanging from the parrot's cage, the pink silken outfit of the girl and the exotically colourful fruit, glimpsed on the white table cloth, appear to be references to the Procters' Far Eastern travels. Like attributes in an Italian Old Master they are symbols for a time of youthful endeavour and impulsive experiences. Freedom from the banal of the everyday to explore one's creative whims. A memory of Burma in this quiet corner of England. Charmingly elegant, enigmatically beautiful.