Gertler first spotted the eighteen-year-old Natalie Denny at Augustus John’s New Year’s Eve party in 1927 and immediately asked her to sit for him. As charming as she was beautiful, Natalie (1909-2007, née Ackenhausen, the family adopted the family name ‘Denny’ during the First World War) was much-sought after – and her artist admirers included Gertler’s Slade contemporary C.R.W. Nevinson, as well as John Armstrong and Harry Jonas. Gertler, fearing she would soon become engaged and no longer able to sit, organised her first sitting two weeks later and within months he had completed two oils of her. This highly-finished portrait study relates closely to the second, known as Supper (1928, National Portrait Gallery, London). Despite her marriage to the writer and broadcaster Lance Sieveking (1896-1972) the following year, the artist and model retained an affectionate friendship for at least the next seven years.
After her first marriage failed, Natalie later married Bobby Bevan, son of the painters Robert Polhill Bevan and Stanislawa de Karlowska and an important figure in advertising, in 1946. At their Boxted House home on the Essex/Suffolk border, the couple amassed an important collection by artists including Armstrong, Spencer Frederick Gore, Cedric Morris, Lett Haines and John Nash, as well as Gertler’s Portrait of the Artist’s Mother (1924). But it was Supper, his most celebrated portrait of Natalie, which hung in pride of place over the mantelpiece in their sitting room for many years.
This superior pencil study is typical of Gertler’s work from the late 1920s, mingling patterns, textures and designs into a carefully-balanced whole in order to provide an artfully contrived backdrop against which to foreground his figure. Here he combines a ‘distinctly French’ manner with echoes of the Camden Town Group’s preference for figures within highly decorative interiors. ‘This gipsy gaudiness and vehemence’, remarked his friend Sylvia Lynd, were ‘part of his instinctive nature, not a deliberate taste’. Natalie is cast as a modern cornucopia, identified with the abundance of ripe fruit and flowers that surround her, and Supper was welcomed as a ‘conception on a broad scale’, in which the artist had allowed himself ‘room to revel in his own abundance’.
We are very grateful to Sarah MacDougall for preparing this catalogue entry and also to Luke Gertler for his assistance with researching this work.