Henry and Gwen Mond, London.
Sotheby's, London, 19 December 1986, lot 561.
With Chiu Gallery, London.
Since its unveiling in December 1930, Scandal has been widely regarded as Charles Sargeant Jagger's most important decorative work. How and why the relief achieved such prominence, despite being sited in a private house, is revealing about the significance of the commission for Jagger and its context in the decorative arts of the period.
Charles Sargeant Jagger (1885-1934) had emerged a decade earlier as one of Britain's leading young sculptors. Although his reputation rested primarily on the massive, rugged 'Tommies' featured in his war memorials; Jagger had also shown himself highly adept at working in a decorative context. His private commissions included a pair of small panels for Stephen Courtauld's library at 47 Grosvenor Square (1924) and a bronze overmantel relief, Mocking Birds, for Freda, Lady Forres's new house in Trafalgar Square, Chelsea (1930). In these works, Jagger demonstrated an outstanding, if more understated, talent for working in relief, first revealed in his extraordinary panels for the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner (1921-25) and the Cambrai Memorial at Louverval (1926-28).
The Scandal commission gave Jagger an opportunity to explore the aesthetic potential of the relief form in the context of a particularly complex and ambitious decorative scheme. The relief, together with a related fire basket, formed the centerpiece of Henry and Gwen Mond's refurbished Drawing Room at Mulberry House, Smith Square in London. The project led by the architect Darcy Braddell with lavish murals by the painter Glyn Philpot effectively created two new rooms within an Edwardian house designed by England's most celebrated architect of the time, Sir Edwin Lutyens. In this way, the Monds made their mark on Mulberry House whilst retaining the integrity of Lutyens' original design.
A glowing review by Professor Charles Reilly, a distinguished architect and educator, attributed the Mulberry House scheme's success to the seamless integration of the three collaborators' contributions. Reilly noted how skillfully Scandal's green patina matched the materials and coloring of Braddell's new bronze doors, also subtly echoing the washes of watercolor on silver foil in Philpot's murals. The relief's unusual cutout composition and low relief modeling further complemented Philpot's silhouetted figures and bold treatment of spatial relationships. An apparently simple but, in fact, highly complex inter-weaving of sculptural and architectural forms achieved a true embedding of Scandal in Braddell's design for the chimney-breast wall.
This visual harmony not only reflects Braddell, Philpot and Jagger's professionalism, but also their familiarity with each other's work. They were members of an artistic and social circle established by three generations of the Mond family. All received generous patronage individually as well as collaboratively; in 1928 Jagger completed two statuary groups for the garden at Melchet Court, the Mond's Hampshire family home designed by Darcy Braddell.
Henry and Gwen Mond were leading society figures of their day. Henry was a politician, a prominent businessman, and a promoter of the Zionist cause. Behind this distinguished public profile, lingered the memory of the bohemian, even scandalous, circumstances of Henry and Gwen's early relationship. They had met in 1918 when Henry, then a war veteran and aspiring poet, crashed his motorbike in West London. He was taken in by Gwen, a young and penniless art student, and her lover, the poet Gilbert Cannan. A ménage á trois had evolved, which ended happily for Henry and Gwen in marriage, and, disastrously for Cannan in his increasing emotional and mental instability. In commissioning Scandal, the Monds were inviting Jagger to make a sophisticated play on their public celebrity and private lives.
The work's title was taken from Richard Brinsley Sheridan's School for Scandal. According to Gwen Mond's statements for the press, the relief, like the mixture of humor and moral instruction in Sheridan's play, was intended to still the wagging tongues in London's High Society drawing rooms and encourage more elevated topics of conversation. A more intimate reading of Scandal was available to the Mond's inner circle, who would have recognized that the central figures alluded to Henry and Gwen's courtship and that the 'gossips' included thinly veiled portraits of family and friends.
Although Scandal is an outstanding example of the genre, it was not unusual to include public and private subtexts in decorative schemes at the time. Members of the Bloomsbury Group were fond of including witty biographical conceits, and a new generation of mural painters that emerged in the 1920s, including Rex Whistler, Eric Ravilious and Mary Adshead, often made playful references to their patrons' lives and work. Although these jeux d'esprit were especially fashionable among mural painters, witty subtexts occur elsewhere in Jagger's decorative work. For example, the Courtauld panels and Mocking Birds, use the motif of a faun worshipping nubile girls to gently mock older men infatuated by youthful women's charms. This can be read as an oblique and humorous reference to the significant age gap in Jagger and his patrons' marriages.
In the remaining years of his life, Jagger received no further opportunities to contribute to ambitious decorative schemes; the early 1930s were a period of hardship and difficulty for patrons and artists following the Wall Street Crash. Scandal is therefore all the more important in revealing Jagger's mastery of the relief form, well evidenced in the complex interplay between the figure groups and the architectural surround within an extraordinarily shallow space.
C.H. Reilly, 'Mulberry House, Westminister Recent Alterations Carried Out for Lady Melchett by Mr. Darcy Braddell', Country Life, 6 June 1931, pp. 736 for an illustration of the relief in Mulberry House.