Whispered Messages From “The Afters”

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“The artist gazes upon a reality and creates his own impression.  

The viewer gazes upon the impression and creates his own reality.”

~Robert Brault


Recently, I was introduced to the work of Fran Henke, an Australian artist, writer and  polio survivor who has re-envisioned three famous works of Degas, Modigliani and Rembrandt.  Her series of paintings is called “The Afters.” It is an evocative trio of take-offs prompting the viewer to contemplate… after what? After whom?

For me, The Afters somehow emotes an ethereal spirit that whispers messages about the essence of women in our culture and then more specifically about the evolving social acceptance of women who have a disability. “Beauty is,”  indeed,  “in the eye of the beholder.”  Or is it intrinsic?  What is beauty, anyway?

Look for the braces and wheelchair.  Listen for the whispered messages…

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Left: “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen”; Edgar Degas; 1881. Right: “After Degas’ Little Dancer”; Fran Henke, 2014.


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Left: “Seated Woman Weared In Blue Blouse”; Amedeo Modigliani, 1919. Right: “After Modigliani’s Seated Woman”; Fran Henke, 2014.


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Left: “A Woman Bathing in a Stream”; Rembrandt, 1654. Right: “After Rembrandt’s Woman Bathing in a Stream/Selfie”; Fran Henke, 2014.


As a viewer, what is your reflection about these before-then-after works of art?

What might the artist be saying about 21st century Western society’s view of women who have a disability?




What whispered messages do you hear from The Afters?



About the Artist

Fran Henke is a busy Australian artist. She had polio in 1943, an isolated case in a small country town. At the time she was Fran Henkequarantined and felt fortunate not to be sent to Melbourne’s big hospital. Living with a post-polio disability, she read a lot as a child, and grew up wanting to become a career writer. The only way to do that and earn a living in those days was to be a journalist, so she did. Fran specialized in reporting about books and the arts. After 50 years, she retired as a journalist in Australia and overseas, and now lives in an industrial port town, on the Mornington Peninsula in South East Victoria. Upon retirement, Fran was able to go to art school and to write books, including artists’ books (see  Smithsonian blog for a definition).

She also decided that since she had strong communication skills, she should use those skills to benefit people who also had polio. During the past 15 years, she has energetically campaigned for meeting the needs of polio survivors in Australia and worldwide.

Fran relates, “this Afters series came out of my belief that art needs to say something. When a U.S. polio survivor mentioned her discomfort at a Modigliani lady’s skirt length… I repainted Modigliani!”   She lengthened the skirt, gave the chair wheels and the lady, leg braces. This year she has continued to revise and provide re-interpretation of beautiful women painted by the great Masters, Degas and Rembrandt.  Ms. Henke has provided us with new, fascinating portraits.

Fran has worked with Redbubble, which is a Melbourne-based online marketplace for print-on-demand products based on user- submitted artwork. She also has her own website with full contact details: www.franhenke.com

Thank you, Fran.



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10 thoughts on “Whispered Messages From “The Afters”

  1. Bookmarked, wonderful site!

  2. Hi Sunny and Fran, I am a biologist and educator by training, but the arts feed my inner self. The Saint Louis Symphony, the Repertory Theatre, etc. (I am a fan of Modigliani.) Off the wall maybe, but what I heard was “The Now.” As I have aged, I worry less about my past foibles and less about the future, but live now. Thanks for joining me for my first cup of coffee today.

    1. Sunny says:

      Thank YOU for a very wise reflection. Love it. Having a coffee chat is such fun.

    2. John says:

      hi Joan. another coffee person, especially early AM.

  3. Linda Wheeler Donahue says:

    Thank you dear Fran Henke and thank you Sunny. For me, the “Afters” whisper disability acceptance through disability beauty. In my everyday life, I sometimes feel self-conscious when I wear a dress and my legs are not able to present a “ladylike” image as I sit in my wheelchair. When Fran painted a favorite Modigliani to look more like me, my spirit soared. Still flying high with gratitude.

    1. Sunny says:

      “disability acceptance through disability beauty…” What a wonderful perspective to hang on to.
      Would love to hear a few comments from the men out there…

      1. John says:

        OK…from a guy!

        Though I did not have polio, my main squeeze back in college did. My own disability came later in life.

        What I see in painting and in words expressed here is that acceptance is FINALLY more open, presented and spoken of. The ‘disability beauty’ I knew back when was from a young woman who was attractive and intelligent, a nice catch! What I saw in her and experienced then was every bit as beautiful, sensual and loving as could be…and MY choice! The disability was not ignored, nor was it a detractor to us. We were like other youth, the two of us enjoying our first love experience with all its awkward and wonderful moments put together. When one feels beautiful, one exudes beautiful.

        Don’t know if these comments are what you were seeking, but that is my input.

        1. Sunny says:

          Thanks for a lovely description of your relationship.

  4. Fran Henke says:

    Overwhelmed by this Sunny. Thank you and may you go to heaven on lotus sandals.

    1. Sunny says:

      Whoa! Do they sell split sizes anywhere? Thanks, Fran.

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