David Jagger (1891-1958)
Jagger was one of the most highly regarded society portraitists working in London and included amongst his circle an illustrious set of patrons, including the actress Vivien Leigh…
This vivid portrait, redolent of exotic 1930s fashion and combining glamorous realism with energetic artistic force, was painted by the celebrated society portraitist David Jagger.
Born in Yorkshire near Sheffield, Jagger’s interest in the arts soon emerged, and at the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to a lithographer, although leaving a few years later to concentrate on drawing portraits in pastel, as well as moorland scenes. His pastel portraits soon earned him enough money to move to London, and following the sale of his acclaimed work The Bolshevik to Lord Beaverbrook, he was able to establish a portrait practice.
Jagger soon became one of the most highly regarded society portraitists working in London and included amongst his circle an illustrious set of patrons, including Queen Mary and the actress Vivien Leigh. His reclusive nature helped him to avoid the controversy which seemed to linger around other artists of the period, most notably Augustus John (1878-1961), and this discretion won him the favour of the more conservative social elite of the day. His subjects are always treated with great modesty and their simple but stately elegance go hand-in-hand with his suave but controlled brush.
This portrait was exhibited in the touring exhibition The Art of the Jagger Family 1939-1940, which was devoted to the work of David, his sister Edith and that of their late brother, Charles Sargeant Jagger (1885-1934), the celebrated sculptor, whose most notable commission is the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner, London. Edith (c.1880-1938) was a painter who specialised in landscape and still-life subjects. Interestingly, a photograph formerly in the family’s possession, which accompanies this work, shows David and a lady (who can be presumed to be Edith), seated in front of a selection of works chosen for the exhibition. From this photograph, it is clear that Jagger was particularly interested in subjects reflecting a variety of ethnic backgrounds; besides the present work there are a pair of head studies of African subjects and also a portrait of a Jewish refugee, which is now in the collection of Nottingham Museum and Art Galleries.
Although the sitter in this portrait is at present unknown, her hair style and clothing suggests she was perfectly au fait with the latest fashions, as exemplified in contemporary popular cinema and theatre. Indeed the sitter, whose anonymity adds to her mystique, looks not dissimilar to the American-Chinese actress Anna May Wong, and just as the origins of today’s fashions can be traced to prominent celebrities, this hair style – a jet-black bob with a heavy fringe – is most commonly associated in the public imagination with Wong.
When exhibited at Bankfield Museum in Halifax in August 1939, the local press reviewed the present work with great admiration, commenting on the ‘smooth skin textures’ and the bold colour scheme of reds, greens and blacks.
 J. Lindley, Halifax Courier & Guardian, 26 August 1939