The McEvoy Archive A Deeper Look into Britain's Lost Artist. by Laurie Lewis (Film featuring Lawrence Hendra and Lydia Miller)

December 9, 2019

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At the time of his death on 4th January 1927 Ambrose McEvoy ARA was at the pinnacle of his career. Aged 49, he had already established himself as the go-to alternative society portrait painter for England’s young mercantile and industrial elite. The ‘modern Gainsborough’ of his day, his confidently experimental work was in high demand during the 1920s and in 1927 McEvoy had more commissions scheduled in his diary than at any other point in his career. However, by the 1950s, McEvoy’s frenetic portraits of socialites, celebrities and bright young things, formerly celebrated for their free-spirited abandon, had ceased to retain their appeal to a society recovering from the aftermath of war. The frivolity and opulence that had come to characterise Edwardian England was no longer deemed an appropriate expression of the period. Instead, Britain was looking towards the future and pre-war reminders swiftly fell out of favour. This regrettably has included the work of Ambrose McEvoy. An artist who should be remembered as one of the most successful British portrait painters of the early-20th century, is instead represented proudly at a select few discerning public institutions and private collections.

 At the height of his career, McEvoy’s seemingly unfinished painterly technique appeared to echo the demand among certain members of British elite society for a more exuberant artistic expression of the era. Portraits of such notable socialites as Lady Diana Cooper [shown above], The Hon. Lois Sturt and The Hon. Daphne Pollen (née Baring) were revered for their sensitivity and temperament but also for their striking contemporaneity. Compared to peers such as Sir Oswald Birley, McEvoy’s portraits are strikingly unorthodox.

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500 Years of British Art