Regardless of the subject’s identity, the technical accomplishment of this work combined with its unmistakable force of characterisation was enough to justify its inclusion in McEvoy’s major one-man exhibition staged at the Leicester Galleries in spring 1923.

In this cropped profile of a young woman, McEvoy proudly displays each separate layer of colour, built up through numerous watercolour washes. He lays specific emphasis on the prominence of each layer by painting, firstly, in monochrome, which accentuates the vibrancy of the colours applied on top. Details such as the eye, lips, nose and chin are indicated through delicate shading without dominating the overall soft subtlety of the portrait.

McEvoy was famed for his experimentation with coloured electric light bulbs; this was highly unusual for the period and was a source of great curiosity among his subjects and peers. He used this artificial light in several different ways and kept a wide variety of coloured bulbs to hand in his studio to simply swap them around until he found the right result. The blue accents in this watercolour indicate that this may well be an example of such experimentation.

The subject of this beguiling watercolour...

Read more

In this cropped profile of a young woman, McEvoy proudly displays each separate layer of colour, built up through numerous watercolour washes. He lays specific emphasis on the prominence of each layer by painting, firstly, in monochrome, which accentuates the vibrancy of the colours applied on top. Details such as the eye, lips, nose and chin are indicated through delicate shading without dominating the overall soft subtlety of the portrait.

McEvoy was famed for his experimentation with coloured electric light bulbs; this was highly unusual for the period and was a source of great curiosity among his subjects and peers. He used this artificial light in several different ways and kept a wide variety of coloured bulbs to hand in his studio to simply swap them around until he found the right result. The blue accents in this watercolour indicate that this may well be an example of such experimentation.

The subject of this beguiling watercolour is known only by her first name ‘Helen’. McEvoy painted several women named Helen throughout his career, including Helen Morris, a well-known actress who sat to McEvoy several times, and Helen Butler, daughter of his early patron Cyril Kendall Butler. The facial features of our subject are highly distinctive and quite unlike those of Helen Morris, ruling her out as a possible candidate. Helen Butler was painted by McEvoy in a double-portrait with her sister Rosalind earlier in 1903 and we know the family remained friends with McEvoy for rest of his life. In the absence of any images of Helen Butler in later life, however, we are unable to know for certain if she is the subject of this work.

Regardless of the subject’s identity, the technical accomplishment of this work combined with its unmistakable force of characterisation was enough to justify its inclusion in McEvoy’s major one-man exhibition staged at the Leicester Galleries in spring 1923.

Biography
Ambrose McEvoy demonstrated his exceptional artistic abilities from a young age. Encouraged by his father, Captain Charles Ambrose McEvoy, and inspired by his father’s great friend, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, McEvoy enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art at the age of sixteen.[1] He studied at the Slade between 1893 and 1898 and afterwards rented a small flat in Danvers Street, Chelsea, where he lived and worked.

McEvoy soon established himself as a gifted genre painter; he explored rolling landscapes and intimate interior scenes whilst attracting attention from wealthy patrons and collectors. During the mid-1910s, McEvoy ventured increasingly towards portraiture and the demand for his portraits rose concurrently.

In 1915 he exhibited his famous work Madame at the National Portrait Society and the following year he was commissioned to paint portraits of several prominent society figures including Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough and Maude Baring. These high-profile commissions gained McEvoy considerable recognition and firmly established his position as a fashionable portrait painter.

However, as with many artists, his career was interrupted by the First World War and in 1918 he was attached to the Royal Naval division as a war artist and posted to the Western Front and the North Sea.[2] Whilst there, McEvoy painted a number of portraits of military commanders, many of which are now in the collection at the Imperial War Museum.

In the years following the First World War, McEvoy’s career and reputation grew from strength to strength and he was soon heralded as one of the most successful and fashionable English society portrait painters of his day. His innovative style and florid methods endeared an emerging generation of young, wealthy and liberal-minded patrons. His famed depictions of human character and beauty, particularly of women, became sought after and he maintained an illustrious list of clients spread between the United Kingdom and America, where he was represented for a period by the most celebrated international art dealer of the day, Lord Duveen.[3]

However, this youthful success was to take its toll on McEvoy and he died in 1927, aged forty-nine. Critics writing shortly after his death were in little doubt as to the significance of his work; ‘the most refined aspect of early twentieth century society will live on in his work, and that alone ensures his position in history’.[4]

To this day, he has become famed for his depiction of women. In his obituary in The Times he was praised for his ability to paint female subjects in a manner that was both visually appealing, but also bespoke the profundity of his ‘thoughts about human beauty, particularly feminine beauty’.[5]

[1] E. A. Akers-Douglas, (ed.) L. Hendra, Divine People: The Art & Life of Ambrose McEvoy, (London: Paul Holberton Publishing, 2019) p.28.

[2] Akers-Douglas, (ed.) Hendra, Divine People, p.24.

[3] Akers-Douglas, (ed.) Hendra, Divine People, p.176.

[4] “Ambrose McEvoy”, Country Life, vol. 13, issue 1619, 28th January 1928, p. 106.

[5] "Mr. Ambrose McEvoy." The Times (London), 5th January 1927, p. 12.

Receive information about exhibitions, news & events.

We will process the personal data you have supplied in accordance with our privacy policy. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking the link in any emails.

Receive information about exhibitions, news & events.

We will process the personal data you have supplied in accordance with our privacy policy. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking the link in any emails.
Close

Basket

No items found
Close

Your saved list

This list allows you to enquire about a group of works.
No items found
Close
Mailing list signup

Get exclusive updates from Philip Mould Gallery

Close

Sign up for updates

Artwork enquiry

Receive newsletters

In order to respond to your enquiry, we will process the personal data you have supplied in accordance with our privacy policy. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking the link in any emails.

Close
Search
Close
Close
500 Years of British Art