Ambrose McEvoy (1878-1927)
The unusually close-cropped composition, the strikingly direct and penetrating gaze of the sitter and his dashing sense of style all serve to suggest that this was a man of some character among McEvoy’s acquaintances...
This arresting portrait of a charismatic and elegantly-attired figure, rich in lively and virtuoso impasto, was painted by Ambrose McEvoy, one of the foremost portrait painters of the early twentieth century.
A student at the Slade School of Art, he was an associate of many of the most prominent members of the Bohemian artistic circles of the time. A close friend of Augustus John, with whose sister, Gwen, a talented artist in her own right, he conducted a tempestuous love affair, McEvoy was at the forefront of the painterly avant-garde of the early twentieth century. Although his early style had certain traits in common with his then-lover - due more to a coincidence of interests rather than to direct emulation - his manner soon began quickly to evolve in a separate direction (a divergence no doubt compounded by McEvoy’s sudden engagement in 1900 to another Slade student, Maria Edwards that left Gwen heartbroken). A 1909 trip to Dieppe with Walter Sickert compounded the changes that had already begun to affect McEvoy’s approach, causing his brushwork to become freer, looser and marked by an increasingly experimental technique. It was around this time that McEvoy became most in demand as a painter of society portraits, executing likenesses of among the most glamorous of society figures.
With his brush, McEvoy immortalised many of the most remarkable sitters of his age. These included figures from the belle monde such as Lady Diana Cooper and Consuelo, Duchess of Malborough; however, his range also spread from swagger portrait to power portrait, with the artist executing a range of portraits of luminaries from both sides of the political divide from then-Prime Minister David Lloyd George to future Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. It would not be unreasonable to speculate that the present sitter might have come from either this world of high society or from the Bohemian artistic circles in which McEvoy operated. The unusually close-cropped composition, the strikingly direct and penetrating gaze of the sitter and his dashing sense of style all serve to suggest that he was a man of some character and, perhaps, reputation among McEvoy’s acquaintances. Certainly, the animated twist of the sitter’s posture and the manner in which he almost looks up at the viewer, his gaze ironical, suggests a level of intimacy of the artist with his sitter that could place him among McEvoy’s closest associates.