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Portrait of a Woman Seated

Portrait of a Woman Seated
signed 'J Dismorr' (lower right)
oil on canvas
30 x 24 in. (76.2 x 61 cm.)
Painted in 1919.
Bequeathed to Robin Ody in 1939.
with Piccadilly Gallery, London.
Purchased by the present owner's husband at the 1974 exhibition.
Exhibition catalogue, Jessica Dismorr: Oils, Watercolours and Drawings, London, Mercury Gallery, 1974, n.p., no. 10, illustrated, as 'Portrait of a woman seated, Helen Saunders?'.
London, Mansard Gallery, Group X, March - April 1920, no. 1, as 'Portrait of a Woman'.
London, Mayor Gallery, Jessica Dismorr Exhibition of paintings and drawings, April - May 1965, ex-cat.
London, Mercury Gallery, Jessica Dismorr: Oils, Watercolours and Drawings, April - May 1974, no. 10, as 'Portrait of a woman seated, Helen Saunders?'.
Sale room notice
Please note that the title for the present lot is Portrait of a Woman Seated, and not as stated in the printed catalogue.

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Lot Essay

The portraits that Dismorr painted are widely acknowledged to be amongst her finest works. Throughout her career she made pencil, pen and ink, and watercolour drawings of her relatives and friends, and the present work is now known to be a portrait of Jessica's sister Margaret Dismorr, later Thompson, who in 1919 had recently returned from serving with the American Red Cross in France and with a repatriation programme in what was becoming Czechoslovakia. It is known from a written account by Margaret Dismorr that Jessica and Wyndham Lewis both made portraits of her, their easels side by side, although unfortunately the drawing that Lewis did on that occasion does not seem to have survived.

In 1919 Lewis and others who had been in the Vorticist group were working out how to develop their practice after their traumatic war experiences. Dismorr's portrait is pivotal in that context, and must have been one of the most striking works in the Group X exhibition at the Mansard Gallery of 1920. It could be argued that in its 'marriage' of portraiture with the hard surfaces of Vorticism, it paved the way for Lewis's Praxitella (Leeds Art Gallery) and his other portraits of the early 1920s.

The stretcher is inscribed with the name of her friend Helen Saunders, and in the 1974 Mercury Gallery exhibition, it was considered likely that the sitter for the present work was Helen Saunders (see Q. Stevenson, exhibition catalogue, Jessica Dismorr, London, Mercury Gallery, 1974, n.p.). However, more recent research and the cooperation of Jessica's niece, Janet Keep, confirms the identification as Dismorr's sister, Margaret.

We are very grateful to Quentin Stevenson and Brigid Peppin for their assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

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