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Glyn Warren Philpot, R.A. (1884-1937)
Glyn Warren Philpot, R.A. (1884-1937)

Marchand de Charbon

Glyn Warren Philpot, R.A. (1884-1937)
Marchand de Charbon
signed with initials 'GP' (lower right)
oil on canvas
16 ¾ x 13 ¼ in. (42.5 x 33.6 cm.)
Painted circa 1934.
Mrs Violet Nyberg, and by descent.
Brighton, City Art Gallery, Glyn Philpot R.A. 1884-1937, April - May 1953, no. 148.

Lot Essay

‘These pictures revealed his consummate mastery of technique, his command of an unusual beauty of surface and colour, and his instinctive grasp of expressive pose and composition…Their rich and sonorous tonality, their strong, unusual, and subtly harmonized colour schemes, pointed clearly to the arrival of a master’ (A.C. Sewter (intro.), G. Philpot 1884-1937, London, 1951, p. 3).

Marchand de Charbon is one of the finest and most beautifully composed works Philpot painted in his most proficient period of the 1930s. This time marked a tremendous period of creative activity and signaled a transformation of style for the artist. Philpot moved away form the Edwardian Romantic aesthetic that preoccupied his early work, where literary, religious and symbolical character dominated, reflecting the poetic tendencies of the Pre-Raphaelites and his close friends Charles Rickets and Charles Shannon, to a more Modernist aesthetic, which looked to the examples of the European Modernist artists. As portrayed in Marchand de Charbon there was now an emphasis on a lighter and more harmonious use of tone and colour, a looser and more enlivened brushstroke and a renewed focus on line and surface. This transition also saw an increased plasticity within his work, shown to marvellous effect here in the sculptural, masculine physique of the coal merchant.

Philpot described his new approach to painting, ‘The change has been towards a simplification of technique, a sacrifice of ‘expected’ qualities of surface in order to obtain more rapidity and flexibility of handling and a greater force of accent. With this has gone a simplification of form, dispensing with exactitudes of drawing to obtain greater emotional weight in line. Add to this a disregard for chiaroscuro, when this was found to hamper the sharper detachment of one plane from another, and this is all. All these are technical changes, and all have been adopted instinctively in the search for new forms of beauty. In the aim of the artist there has been no change’ (ibid., pp. 7-8).

Indeed, although there were significant technical and stylistic changes, there remained an emotional force in Philpot’s work, which is seen most potently in Marchand de Charbon. Philpot succeeded in imbuing a wonderful sense of character and expressiveness in his figures, creating a breadth of sensitivity and often a mood of the solemn and melancholic, which reflected his great love for the theatre and for characterisation. There always remains Philpot’s reverence for the great masters of Spain, France and the Venetian Renaissance, expressing his particular admiration for Titian and Velasquez. Since his early visit to Paris with his sister Daisy in 1903, where he visited the Louvre, Philpot was struck by the work of the great masters. This was to have a lasting effect on the artist who constantly travelled back to the Continent and took trips to the National Gallery, and such museums, to study their work. When consulting his own paintings he stated, ‘I am studying these figures, and I was wondering what Paul Veronese would have made of them, and how he would have done it’ (quoted in R. Gibson, Glyn Philpot 1884-1937 Edwardian Aesthete to Thirties Modernist, London, 1985, p. 12).

Philpot’s subtlety of colour, expressiveness of character and originality brought him early success as a portrait painter with important commissions such as Princess Helena Victoria, Lady Patricia Ramsay, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, and H.M. King Fouad I, who painted in Egypt in 1923. Studying at the the atelier of Jean-Paul Laurens of the Académie Julian in Paris, Philpot continued to travel extensively throughout his lifetime to places such as Spain, Greece and Morocco, living for much of the 1930s in France. In April 1910 he held his first public one-man show at the Baillie Gallery in Bruton Street, London and was awarded a Gold Medal at the 1913 Annual International Exhibition held by the Carnegie Institute for his work Marble-Worker. In 1915 he became an Associate of the Royal Academy and was elected to full membership in 1923, later joining the Board of Trustees of the Tate Gallery and the Fine Arts Committee of the British Council. Robin Gibson describes his legacy to modern British art, ‘Philpot was not only one of the most gifted portrait painters in a long British tradition, but also an original and sensitive artist, whose work has a recognisably individual beauty of technique and a virility of style and concept’ (ibid., p. 35).

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