Inspired by his early contact with his father’s friend, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, McEvoy studied at the Slade School of Art from the age of sixteen, where he was a friend of the brilliant brother and sister duo, Augustus and Gwen John.

Ambrose McEvoy was 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’.[1]

In this work, we see why the artist could lay claim to being one of the most adventurous British artists of the early twentieth century. Painted with bravura brushwork and a keen sense of the play of light and shade, it shows the power that could be achieved when McEvoy brought his startlingly modern technique to bear on the most hallowed of Old Master subjects.

Three years earlier, McEvoy had painted with Walter Sickert in Dieppe; the experience encouraged the younger artist to push the experimentalism of his technique. But the influence of this period must surely lie as much in the exposure that it provided to the work...

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Ambrose McEvoy was 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’.[1]

In this work, we see why the artist could lay claim to being one of the most adventurous British artists of the early twentieth century. Painted with bravura brushwork and a keen sense of the play of light and shade, it shows the power that could be achieved when McEvoy brought his startlingly modern technique to bear on the most hallowed of Old Master subjects.

Three years earlier, McEvoy had painted with Walter Sickert in Dieppe; the experience encouraged the younger artist to push the experimentalism of his technique. But the influence of this period must surely lie as much in the exposure that it provided to the work of Edgar Degas. Sickert was a great friend and acolyte of the French master and the presence of the latter can very much be felt in the present work. With her back to the viewer, the positioning of the model calls to mind Degas’s preference for exploring the female figure in a range of unusual and unguarded poses. As in works by Degas, the focus of the painting is on the formal relationship of the subject to the domestic interior that she occupies. But wholly McEvoy’s is the exciting dynamism of the facture and the sense for the unusual colouristic effects created by artificial sources of light.

Inspired by his early contact with his father’s friend, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, McEvoy studied at the Slade School of Art from the age of sixteen, where he was a friend of the brilliant brother and sister duo, Augustus and Gwen John. At one point, McEvoy was the lover of Gwen, but left her heartbroken when he suddenly announced his attention to marry another Slade pupil, Mary Edwards. The couple remained married until the end of McEvoy’s life.

During the First World War, he was seconded to the Royal Naval division; following time amid the horrors of the western front, he returned to sea, where he painted a series of likenesses of his commanding officers, providing that he could be adept in painting both male and female sitters. Over the course of the 1910s, the demand for his portraiture rose rapidly; he could at the height of his career be expected to paint as many as twenty-five oil paintings in a year. But this youthful success was to take its toll on McEvoy. His growing workaholism came at the expense of his health and he died of pneumonia in 1927 aged only 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’.[2]

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

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

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500 Years of British Art