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WILFRID AND JANE DE GLEHN
Wilfrid de Glehn was truly international. His paternal grandfather was Estonian, his mother French, and he was fluent in several European languages. It was said that in France he was viewed as American, in Britain, French, and in America, British. The same can be said of his art, for as a painter he absorbed a rich and eclectic range of influences, from French rococo (training at the Ecole des Beaux Arts) and Victorian classicism, to the romanticism of Constable, who was by then being re-assessed by the British Impressionists.
John Singer Sargent also had a profound effect on both Wilfrid's art and life. The two first met in 1891 at Fairford, U.S.A., where Wilfrid was assisting Edwin Austin Abbey with murals for the Boston Public Library, on which Sargent was also working. A mutual appreciation and passion for music drew the two artists together and a lifelong friendship began; as Jane De Glehn was to later observe, they were 'a good combination'.
Born in La Rochelle, New York, Jane Erin De Glehn, née Emmet, was a cousin of the novelist Henry James, and her older sisters, Rosina Sherwood and Lydia Field Emmet, and her cousin, Ellen Emmet Rand, were all successful artists in America. Jane studied at the Art Students' League in New York under William Merritt Chase and John Henry Twatchman, before becoming a pupil of Frederick MacMonnies in Paris. An exhibition held in 1936 of five generations of Emmet paintings observed: 'If art runs in families, as they say acting does, then by all means we must nominate the Emmets to be our Royal Family of painters' (New York City Evening Sun).
Wilfrid and Jane married in La Rochelle in 1904 and, after a brief honeymoon departed for England where they settled at 73 Cheyne Walk, London. Before the First World War the de Glehns frequently travelled with Sargent in Europe, and all three, when sketching together, invariably incorporated portraits of each other in their work. Sargent frequently visited the de Glehns' Chelsea house, which became a gathering place for the British Impressionists, including such artists as Henry Tonks, Philip Wilson Steer and others associated with the New English Art Club. Both Jane and Wilfrid exhibited at the Royal Academy and the New English Art Club, and shared a show at the Fine Art Society in 1913. Wilfrid also held one man-shows at Durand Ruel in New York and Paris, the Carfax Gallery, the Fine Art Society, the Goupil Gallery, the Leicester Galleries, Barbizon House, and Knoedler's in London, and Vose Galleries in Boston. He was elected A.R.A. in 1923 and R.A. in 1932.
During the First World War Wilfrid and Jane volunteered as orderlies at the British Red Cross hospital for French soldiers in Arc-en-Barrois. Wilfrid worked as an ambulance driver and X-ray technician, while Jane's tasks included producing portrait drawings of the patients. Other staff included John Masefield, the poet, and Professor Henry Tonks, who had trained as a doctor before teaching at the Slade School. By 1917 Wilfrid was serving with the Royal Garrison Artillery in northern Italy during the retreat from Caporetto, and he ended the War as a linguist at Allied HQ in Tours and then Paris, where Jane eventually joined him.
After the War, Wilfrid resumed his career in London and, with his sister's young family, he rediscovered the English countryside, particularly Cornwall. Jane and he now made annual trips to paint in the South of France with his friends and cousins, producing many fresh and spontaneous works in and around the Var Valley and along the coast, including the harbour of St Tropez (see lot 21). Here Wilfred would sit on the quayside observing what he described as an 'unspoilt village', whilst painting vessels laden with cargoes of olive oil, fish and wine.
During the 1930s the de Glehns began to spend weekends in Wiltshire, where Wilfrid, a keen angler, could enjoy fishing. They rented a house at Wilton, close to Wilton Park, the estate of the Earls of Pembroke, and Wiltshire landscapes featured among works exhibited by both of them from this time. Wilfrid's nude studies were often painted during the winter in London, where he sometimes used their sitting room overlooking the Thames as a studio. In many of these works (including lot 25) their household furniture can be seen, while the figures are often illuminated by light reflected from the river or the fire.
After their Chelsea house was destroyed in the Blitz in 1941, the de Glehns settled permanently in Stratford Tony, Wiltshire, where they continued to paint. Wilfrid died in 1951, predeceasing Jane by a decade.
We are grateful to Laura Wortley for her help in preparing this catalogue entry.