Friday, 10 February 2017

Girlie Pix! The Grønmark Blog team pick their favouries

If Portrait of a Girl in Pink by William Rothenstein (1872–1945) isn't quite what...

...the headline led you to expect, I apologise - but "Portraits of Women" (the title of one of my numerous Pinterest boards) sounded a bit dull. A problem for a male heterosexual when judging the portrait of a female is, I've found, trying to separate the attractiveness of the sitter from the effectiveness of the painting as a painting (or drawing).
Portrait of Eva Katherine Balfour (1911), John Singer Sargent 
For instance, is Sargent's sketch of Eva Katherine Balfour (later Lady Buxton) arresting because Miss Balfour is strikingly beautiful - or because it's superbly executed? Bit of both, I suspect. I find the only way I can distinguish between art and posh girlie pix is by whether the sitter comes across as a real, live human being - an actual person with wants, doubts, joys and miseries - or as an aesthetically pleasing object with no independent existence outside the frame containing her portrait. For me, the girl in pink and Miss Balfour are real: there's lots going on behind the eyes - they're thinking (probably "Oh, do get on with it!"). Renoir's delightfully pretty, snub-nosed cuties are sometimes objects:
And sometimes subjects, with their own independent reality:
Or am I just imagining there's a difference between the two? John Singer Sargent alternated between the subject/object modes - depending, presumably, on how he responded to the sitter - whereas the Paris-based Italian painter, Giovanni Boldini, who produced an endless series of stylish, elegant portraits, always seems much more interested in aesthetic effects than character:
Whatever, here is a varied selection of portraits of real, live women, starting with Jeunesse Dorée 1934 by Gerard Leslie Brockhurst (the model was Kathleen Woodward, whom the artist married in 1947):
Corporal Elspeth Henderson and Sergeant Helen Turner, 1941, Laura Knight:
Portrait of a young girl with a prayer book ca.1549, Bronzino:
Black Girl, 1879, Ilia Efimovich Repin:
Jossa 1886, Christian Krogh:
Self-portrait (1921), Zinaida Serebriakova:
Portrait of Mrs. Letitia Ann Sage 1785, Unknown artist:
Portrait of the Artist's Wife Marie 1889, Peder Severin Kroyer
Pauline in the Yellow Dress, c.1944, Herbert James Gunn:
Laura 1506, Giorgione:
My Wife (Karin in the Studio), by Carl Larsson:
Portrait of Frances Abington as Miss Prue in Congreve's 'Love for Love' 1777, Joshua Reynolds
Geraldine Lee, No. 2 1914,  George Wesley Bellows
 Louise Jopling 1879, John Everett Millais:
I'll end with John Singer Sargent in full character mode, with Lady Agnew of Lochnaw 1892
As with so many of the women in these portraits, I get the feeling that Lady Agnew is staring right back at us (and, at least in my case, is none too impressed).


  1. I seem to remember reading that Lady Agnew was recovering from a serious illness at the time (I'm sure someone will be able to correct me if I am wrong). If I am right it would account for the expression on her face.

    1. You're right, Helen: Gertrude was indeed convalescing from influenza when she sat for the portrait - hence, presumably, the languid pose. The painting seems to have created a bit of a sensation in 1892, receiving rave reviews, turning Sargent into a sought-after society portrait painter, and launching Lady Agnew's career as a society lady.

  2. A wonderful gallery. Thank You. The portrait of the two WAAF NCOs from 1941 was particularly poignant.

    1. Corporal Henderson looks like she didn't suffer fools gladly. She did another painting of a bomber crew called "Take Off" in 1944 which is very atmospheric. Laura Knight was created a Dame in 1929, and in 1936 became the first woman ever to be elected to the Royal Academy. There was an exhibition of her portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery in 2013, which I really should have gone to. I'm surprised there haven't been any recent BBC documentaries about her, given she seems to tick all the boxes. Mind you, she was extremely popular and successful, so she probably doesn't fit the current feminist narrative.