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Seated Model in the Studio (Henry Thomas)

Seated Model in the Studio (Henry Thomas)
signed with initials 'G.P.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
30 x 25 in. (76 x 63.5 cm.)
Painted in 1936.
Gabrielle Cross, the artist's niece, and by descent to Rosemary Smalley.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 2 June 2004, lot 57, where purchased by the present owner.
D. Philpot, Manuscript Catalogue of Paintings by Glyn Philpot, circa 1938-57, p. 33.
A.C. Sewter, Glyn Philpot 1884-1937, London, 1951, p. XI, no. 104, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Exhibition of British Paintings 1750 - 1950, London, Henry Wyndham Fine Art, 1990, n.p., no. 17, illustrated.
S. Martin, exhibition catalogue, Glyn Philpot: Flesh and Spirit, Chichester, Pallant House Gallery, 2022, p. 188, fig. 203.
London, Leicester Galleries, Summer Exhibition, July - September 1936, no. 82.
London, Redfern Gallery, Figure Pieces, Portraits, Landscapes and Flower-Pieces in Oil and Watercolour by Glyn Philpot, November 1937, no. 2.
London, Tate Gallery, Paintings and Sculpture by the late Glyn Philpot, July - August 1938, no. 57.
Warsaw, British Council, Instytut Propagandy Sztuki, Contemporary British Art, January - February 1939: this exhibition travelled to Helsinki, Kunsthalle Helsinki, March 1939; and Stockholm, Liljevalchs Konsthall, April - May 1939.
London, National Gallery, British Painting since Whistler, March - August 1940, no. 119.
London, Leighton House, Retrospective Exhibition: Drawings, Paintings and Sculpture by Glyn Warren Philpot, February 1959, no. 58.
Worthing, Worthing Art Gallery, Paintings and Drawings by Glyn Philpot, R.A., September - October 1962, no. 42.
London, Henry Wyndham Fine Art, Exhibition of British Paintings 1750 - 1950, June - July 1990, no. 17.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Amelia Walker
Amelia Walker Director, Specialist Head of Private & Iconic Collections

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Lot Essay

The work that Glyn Philpot produced in his final years is widely regarded as some of his most important and captivating, his artistic expression reaching its most authentic and sophisticated.

Painted in 1936, Seated Model in the Studio (Henry Thomas) is a magnificent example of Philpot’s sensitive later style. While a Black male sitter had been a prevalent subject for Philpot since 1912, this painting belongs to a small series of half-length seated men produced between 1936 and 1937 about which A.C. Sewter comments that they ‘for variety and certainty of mood, occupy a high position in his oeuvre’ (A.C. Sewter, Glyn Philpot 1884-1937, London, 1951, p. 9). Philpot had an enduring interest in painting his friends and the jazz musicians that he watched, without reference to the social exclusivity that was rife in this period. As Simon Martin comments ‘Philpot created a space for the sensitive representation of the Black male, not as racist stereotype, but as beautiful, modern, and elevated on to the aesthetic ideal of the nude and portrait in Western culture’ (S. Martin, exhibition catalogue, Glyn Philpot: Flesh and Spirit, Chichester, Pallant House Gallery, 2022, p. 200).

In Philpot’s time, this painting was given the anonymous title ‘Negro Model’, however it is in fact Philpot’s arguably best known and most sought-after sitter, the Jamaican-born Henry Thomas, who is depicted. Thomas first sat for Philpot in 1929, after the artist’s godson, Oliver Messel, met him wandering the halls of the National Gallery having missed his boat home to Jamaica. Thomas was the principal model for Philpot’s depictions of Black men in this period and as well as modelling for Philpot, Thomas worked as a domestic servant for him. On Philpot’s death in 1937, Thomas left a note on the artist’s grave describing his friend as a fatherly figure ‘of kind heart and human nature’ (R. Gibson, exhibition catalogue, Glyn Philpot: Edwardian Aesthete to Thirties Modernist, London, National Portrait Gallery, 1984, p. 142).

Philpot had established a strong reputation as a portrait painter of British and American society 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 him to being elected a Royal Academician in 1923 at the age of 38, and in 1927 he became a trustee of the Tate Gallery. While Henry Thomas in the Studio 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, Philpot suddenly moved to Paris and this period of experimentation allowed him to absorb the avant-garde influences of contemporary Continental society, further influencing the development of his work.

Philpot’s inimitable ability to capture his sitter’s physiognomy is demonstrated in this intimate portrait. With simple yet expressive lines he portrays Thomas’s downward gaze which, in conjunction with the attention paid to the shadows of his facial structure, emphasises the sitter's contemplative expression. Reflecting on his Symbolist tendencies, Philpot believed art should echo 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.

We are very grateful to Charles Beddington, who is preparing the catalogue raisonné on Glyn Philpot, for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

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