McEvoy has painted this work quickly, applying multiple layers of paint over one another to ‘build up’ the composition.

This beguiling oil sketch is an early work by Ambrose McEvoy and demonstrates his developing freedom of painterly expression.

The small scale of this work allows a closer inspection of the artist’s innovative method; perspective is somewhat abandoned in favour of a celebration of movement and light. The figure’s face is illuminated with warm hues in a manner which harkens to that of the great masters, however, the energy and movement inherent in his bold brushstrokes distances this from the work of the past masters and places it firmly in the present. McEvoy was formidable in his ability to assimilate knowledge from artists whom he respected and use these skills as a vehicle through which to experiment with his own techniques.

McEvoy has painted this work quickly, applying multiple layers of paint over one another to ‘build up’ the composition. One of his favourite techniques – which is visible in this work – is ‘scumbling’ where patches...

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This beguiling oil sketch is an early work by Ambrose McEvoy and demonstrates his developing freedom of painterly expression.

The small scale of this work allows a closer inspection of the artist’s innovative method; perspective is somewhat abandoned in favour of a celebration of movement and light. The figure’s face is illuminated with warm hues in a manner which harkens to that of the great masters, however, the energy and movement inherent in his bold brushstrokes distances this from the work of the past masters and places it firmly in the present. McEvoy was formidable in his ability to assimilate knowledge from artists whom he respected and use these skills as a vehicle through which to experiment with his own techniques.

McEvoy has painted this work quickly, applying multiple layers of paint over one another to ‘build up’ the composition. One of his favourite techniques – which is visible in this work – is ‘scumbling’ where patches of colour are rapidly applied over the top of another colour beneath, allowing the lower layers to show through.

McEvoy was economical with his painting materials and in later life would often reuse canvasses instead of buying new ones. He was clearly very efficient in his early years too, for this work appears to have been painted on a panel liberated from the base of a small drawer.

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.

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500 Years of British Art