Gerald Leslie Brockhurst (1890-1978)
Nancy’s confident expression does nothing to betray the controversy that surrounded the creation of this portrait...
This profound and engaging portrait by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst depicts Nancy Woodward, sister of the artist’s muse and second wife Kathleen (‘Dorette’).
The portrait was almost certainly undertaken in the 1930s, when Brockhurst began to focus on painting following the collapse of the print market, and was thus painted at one of the most tempestuous times in the artist’s life. Nancy’s confident expression does nothing to betray the controversy that surrounded the creation of this portrait. In 1928, Brockhurst, who had recently been made a Visitor to the Royal Academy Schools, met Kathleen Woodward, Nancy’s sister, who was working as a life model. Undeterred by the twenty two year age difference between them, Brockhurst embarked on an affair with Kathleen – who was aged only sixteen when the artist met her. Having renamed her Dorette as Augustus John had renamed his lover Dorelia, she became Brockhurst’s muse. When in 1937, the year of Brockhurst’s election to the Royal Academy, a newspaper article exposed the affair, his wife made her first attempt to file for divorce, which was counter-sued by the irate Brockhurst. When she finally succeeded in 1940, Brockhurst fled with Dorette to New Jersey where the two married and lived until Brockhurst’s death in 1978.
The present work is thought to be one of only two portraits that Brockhurst painted of Nancy. It marks a striking departure from the painter’s output. Unlike Brockhurst’s grand society portraits of celebrity sitters who ranged from Marlene Dietrich to the Duchess of Windsor, both the rapid brushwork and the seemingly domestic interior attest to the intimate rapport between artist and sitter. By underlining the sitter’s face with a bold, black ribbon, Brockhurst provides a captivating image of the assertive confidence of his young lover’s sister. It seems as such a powerful and fearless declaration of resolve in the face of societal disapproval.