Figures from Life is a double portrait of Edith Alexander, whom Toss Woollaston was to marry two months after completing this work, and another close friend, fellow artist Rodney Kennedy. The use of grey toned paper, broad charcoal outlines and floating patches of oil colour make it one of the first modernist New Zealand portraits.
As well as characterising the two sitters, the artist captures their body language. People who knew Kennedy were aware he could gaze with an intensity that felt like a stare. Edith was a frequent model whom Woollaston showed to be both self-content and self-aware. Another portrait by Woollaston, of Janet Furze, occupies the rear wall.