'Philpot was not only one of the most gifted portrait painters in a long British tradition, but also an original and sensitive artist, whose work has a recognisably individual beauty of technique and a virility of style and concept' (R. Gibson, Glyn Philpot 1884-1937 Edwardian Aesthete to Thirties Modernist, London, 1985, p. 35).
The youngest of four siblings, Philpot grew up in Clapham and studied at the Lambeth School of Art. At the age of 20, he exhibited his first of many paintings at the Royal Academy and would go on to become a renowned portraitist. He is perhaps best remembered for his portraits of contemporary figures such as Siegfried Sassoon and Vladimir Rosing but enjoyed early success securing important commissions to paint Princess Helena Victoria, Lady Patricia Ramsay, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, and H.M. King Fouad I, who he painted in Egypt in 1923.
Man in Black is a dramatic and stunning early work by Philpot. Its Edwardian Romantic aesthetic is characteristic of his output in the 1900s and 1910s. Unlike the more ‘flashy’ depictions by his Edwardian contemporaries, however, Man in Black is approachable, the handling of the paint is sensuous, and although the stance is relatively austere, there is a certain humility in the sitter’s composure.
'... he has already shown his anxiety to make a portrait something besides a portrait, the interest of which shall be independent of whether it is a good or bad likeness, and consequently unrelated to the identity of the sitter in life' (Philpot’s work reviewed by The Morning Post, 13 October 1909).
In the 1930s, Philpot’s aesthetic would transform. In his pursuit of drama and elegance his palette would become more adventurous, his brushwork would relax and his use of line emboldened. Man in Black already shows this preoccupation. The soft treatment of the hair emphases the bold use of line on the jaw and the eyes are as if outlined with kohl.