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

Negro Sitting

Glyn Warren Philpot, R.A. (1884-1937)
Negro Sitting
with inscription by Gabrielle Cross 'NEGRO SITTING/1937./Front View./GLYN PHILPOT' (on a label attached to the frame)

oil and charcoal on canvas
40 x 21 5/8 in. (101.6 x 54.9 cm.)
Painted in 1937.
Gabrielle Cross, the artist's niece.
J. Wood Palmer.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 13 May 1987, lot 161.
with Roy Miles, London.
A.C. Sewter, Glyn Philpot 1884-1937, London, 1951, n.p., pl. 105.
London, Leighton House Museum, Retrospective Exhibition of Drawings, Paintings and Sculpture by Glyn Warren Philpot R.A. 1884-1937, February 1959, no. 62.
Special notice

VAT rate of 20% is payable on hammer price and buyer's premium
Sale room notice
This work has been requested by Pallant House Gallery in Chichester UK for their Glyn Philpot exhibition in summer 2020 and subsequent tour, and inclusion in the accompanying monograph written by the Gallery’s Director Simon Martin.

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Lot Essay

Philpot established a strong reputation as a portrait painter capturing British and American society portraits in the years before the First World War, including skilful renditions of Siegfried Sassoon, Sir Oswald Mosley, Stanley Baldwin and even the King of Egypt. His success in this area led to his acceptance both as a Royal Academician and trustee for the Tate Gallery at a relatively young age. While Negro Sitting retains much of the strength of Philpot’s careful expressive portraiture, it is also crucially part of the later period of the artist’s work, in which he had begun to forge his own path away from the expectations of a more conservative society. Having secured a hugely successful base for himself painting Edwardian-style portraits in London and the South-East of England, he suddenly moved to Paris and began a period of experimentation following in the footsteps of many before him in search of artistic inspiration from the great masters working there. Philpot was not averse to alienating his more traditional clientele if the reward was development and freedom in his artistic expression.

During the early 1930s, Philpot delved into more mystical and mythologically inspired compositions, yet still retained an interest in presenting portraits and figures, though in more dramatic and simplified representations. He began to use colour to express emotion and atmosphere and stylized his compositions. ‘In my own case 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 … All these are technical changes and all have been adopted instinctively in the search for new forms of beauty’ (G. Philpot, Apollo, 1933).

Philpot’s later period, during which the present work was painted, has been heralded as some of his most important and captivating work, where the authenticity of his artistic expression comes to the fore. Painted in 1937, Negro Sitting was painted in the final year of the artist’s life, and is one of the last of a series of portraits depicting black men. This was seen as an unusual and controversial topic at the time for mainstream white society, yet Philpot was un-swayed, painting jazz musicians and friends without reference to social exclusivity. Negro Sitting depicts Jamaican-born Henry Thomas, Philpot’s best known and most sought-after sitter. He first sat for Philpot for the 1929 portrait Balthazar, and later became his, reportedly ineffective, manservant. Thomas remained a key muse of Philpot’s, and in exchange the artist gave his advice and support. Upon Philpot’s death, Thomas laid a wreath on his grave with a note praising the artist’s familial role in his life: “for memory to my dear master as well as my father and brother to me,” writing also of his “kind heart and human nature”.

In the present work, Philpot gives the sitter an almost celestial appearance with a strong outline and a lighter sheen on his chest and arms. Philpot’s uncanny ability to capture his sitter’s physiognomy is demonstrated explicitly in this very intimate portrait. With simple lines, he portrays powerful downcast eyes. The muted tones and hands left unfinished draws the viewer’s eye towards the figure’s face; his attention to the shadow in the neck and face further emphasizing the figure’s contemplative expression. As part of the Symbolist movement, a loosely associated group of artists operating around this time, Philpot believed art should reflect an emotion or idea rather than an objective visual representation. In this highly intimate painting, we see the sitter through the eyes of the artist: calm and tender, yet strong. The portrait has been enjoyed and admired by Annabel’s exclusive clientele for decades and is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of their collection.

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