Ambrose McEvoy (1878-1927)
Although the identity of this young girl is not certain, it is strongly comparable to a composition of the artist’s daughter Anna...
This ad vivum portrait sketch of a young girl is a prime example of McEvoy’s later working method. He has posed the child formally, sitting upright, her hands in her lap, a position few children could keep for any extended length of time. This portrait is the work of a moment and the pace of McEvoy’s brush can be understood by the snaking paint applied to the child’s right-hand sleeve.
Although the identity of this young girl is not certain, it is strongly comparable to a composition of the artist’s daughter Anna (1911-83), part of Mary McEvoy’s (the artist’s wife) collection until 1996, when it was sold at Sotheby’s New York. It is possible that this portrait was a preliminary sketch for a later work, produced alongside the portrait of Miss McEvoy.
McEvoy uses this seated composition for several of his child portraits including that of Miss Marie Power, Miss Claudia Johnson (exhibited at the Grosvenor Galleries in 1923) and the portrait sketch of Simon Asquith. However, this portrait, like the comparable likeness of Miss McEvoy, came directly from McEvoy’s descendants, suggesting that it may also depict a family member or close friend.
Described as a ‘painter of mood and temperament’, Ambrose McEvoy showed artistic talent from a young age. He was encouraged by his father, Captain Charles Ambrose McEvoy, and his father’s friend James Abbott McNeill Whistler to pursue art and he enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art at the age of fifteen, studying under Frederick Brown. McEvoy made close friends at the Slade including Augustus John, with whom he shared a studio for a time, and embarked on a ‘stormy’ affair with his sister, Gwen. In 1900 Gwen John was deeply hurt at McEvoy’s announcement that he was engaged to Mary Augusta Spencer Edwards, a fellow Slade student. Ambrose McEvoy and Mary Spencer Edwards married in 1902 and in 1906 they moved to 107 Grosvenor Road where they would spend the rest of their lives.
McEvoy’s style of painting became looser and less controlled following his visit to Dieppe with Walter Sickert in 1909. His career, like so many artists, was interrupted by the First World War and in 1916 he was attached to the Royal Naval division and spent three months on the front line producing portraits of naval officers, many of which are now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum. At the height of McEvoy’s career he was painting twenty-five oil paintings a year, including sitters such as the Duchess of Marlborough, Claude Johnson chairman of Rolls Royce, Lady Diana Cooper and the actress Lillah McCarthy. In 1924 McEvoy became an associate of the Royal Academy and also a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. Overwork took its toll and he died three years later in 1927. His obituary described him as a modern Gainsborough.
 Sotheby’s Arcade, New York: Old Master and 19th Century European Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, 18/19 July 1996, lot 450.
 ‘Mr. Ambrose McEvoy’ in The Times, Wednesday 5th January 1927, pg. 12.
 Captain McEvoy became friendly with Whistler as he fought alongside one of Whistler’s brothers in the Confederate army during the American Civil War.
 ‘Ambrose McEvoy’ in The Times, Wednesday 19th January 1927, pg. 9.