Divine People: First biography of Ambrose McEvoy
The great value of Eric Chilston's biography of McEvoy is in its use of primary sources and the author's deep personal knowledge of his subject. It was researched in the 1970s, with the help of McEvoy's daughter, Anna, when many of McEvoy's sitters were still alive and includes eye-witness accounts of how the artist created his non finito effects. "Sometimes when one thought the picture was nearly finished," his friend and regular sitter the artist Daphne Pollen-elder daughter of Maude Baring-remembered, "he would scumble a transparent coat of white all over it at the beginning of a sitting and paint into this glaze. He usually painted all over the canvas at one sitting and seemed to make a new picture each time. His deftness and speed and precision were prodigious."
Chilston's typescript was thought lost after his death in 1982 but was found in the McEvoy papers in 2018 when the London portrait dealer Philip Mould was preparing an exhibition of the artist's works, which ran from November 2019 to January 2020. It was published, the 100 illustrations excellently reproduced, to coincide with that exhibition, which included loans from Tate Britain, the National Portrait Gallery, numerous regional galleries and private lenders.
Ambrose McEvoy is ripe for re-evaluation. 'Divine People' is a long overdue celebration of a head-turning talent of early-twentieth century British portraiture.