The Art of Ambrose McEvoy

The Art of Ambrose McEvoy

The Art of Ambrose McEvoy

Dreweatts' picture specialists were excited when a recent consignment included an important portrait by Ambrose McEvoy. They knew they could not miss the opportunity to visit their London neighbours Philip Mould & Company this week to view their current exhibition, Divine People, which runs until 24 January.

The exhibition is a major retrospective of the work of Ambrose McEvoy and celebrates the society portraitist, showcasing for the first time in fifty years a collection of his works which highlights McEvoy as one of the most important, and yet almost forgotten high society portrait painters of the 20th century.

Ambrose McEvoy: The Artist

McEvoy entered the Slade School of Fine Art in 1893 at the age of 16 on the suggestion of his father’s close friend James Abbott McNeil Whistler. Whistler would continue to influence McEvoy throughout his career, becoming a mentor he could turn to for criticism and guidance. McEvoy studied under tutors Frederick Brown, Philip Wilson Steer and Henry Tonks and he became close friends with fellow student Augustus John, who went on to become a figurehead of British 20th century portraiture. The two remained close friends and travelled through France, Belgium and Holland where they studied the Old Masters. McEvoy was greatly inspired by Titian, Rembrandt, Hogarth and Gainsborough who he studied back in London on display at the National Gallery and Sir John Soane Museum. 

Inline Image - Image courtesy of Philip Mould
Image courtesy of Philip Mould

McEvoy exhibited for the first time in 1900 at the New English Art Club and became a member in 1902. His early works focused on capturing interior scenes and landscapes but by 1915 he had established himself as a portrait painter. On 5th June 1918 McEvoy was made a temporary major of the Royal Marines. In the August he was made an official war artist and he spent three months painting soldiers and landscapes on the Western Front before joining the naval fleet in the North Sea.

Divine People, A Major Retrospective Exhibition of the Works of Ambrose McEvoy

The exhibition is a spectacular display over two floors of some of McEvoy’s most important works of art. As the viewer you are drawn around the exhibition meeting eyes with some of the most influential high society people of the 20th century including The Viscountess Wimborne (1924), The Lady Diana Manners (1918) and Sir John William Alcock (1919). One of the highlights of the exhibition is The Ear-ring (Philip Mould Cat no. 3) which is the first record of McEvoy moving away from interior scenes to portraiture. Visible in the portrait is his feather-like delicacy with which he approached the canvas, creating a free flowing and energetic mass of broad brushstrokes. McEvoy would commonly start by laying his ground in monochrome, whether this be in blue, brown or black. Then he would superimpose colours just like the method of the old masters that he admired so dearly. What is clear throughout the journey around the exhibition is that his portraits became studies of the sitter’s personality and character as opposed to academic analyses of his sitters. 

 

Inline Image - Ambrose McEvoy, ‘The Ear-ring’. On display at Philip Mould, cat no. 3. Image courtesy of the Tate, London.
Ambrose McEvoy, ‘The Ear-ring’. On display at Philip Mould, cat no. 3. Image courtesy of the Tate, London.

McEvoy, unlike many artists of the time, used artificial bulbs to light his studio and sitters this created a serene and delicate luminosity which reflected the excitement of the 20s. Prominence is also given in the exhibition to McEvoy’s watercolours which are fresh and lyrical. This was a medium he preferred to work in and this is evident in his small studies of Head of Youth (Philip Mould Cat No.26) and Lois Sturt, 1920 (Philip Mould Cat No.24). 

Inline Image - Image courtesy of Philip Mould
Image courtesy of Philip Mould

Miss Violet Henry (1901-1976)

Dreweatts are pleased to announce that Ambrose McEvoy’s portrait of Miss Violet Henry is consigned for sale. The work will go under the hammer on 19th March in Dreweatts Modern & Contemporary auction. Miss Violet Henry (1901-1976) was the daughter of Philip Solomon Henry (1863-1933) who was a Jewish Australian gentleman who made his fortune in copper and coffee before moving to the United States in 1900. Henry married Florence Lewisohn, in April 1900 at Lewisohn Mansion in New York and they went on to have two children, Violet Rosalie Henry and Leonore Gladys Henry. Just a year after their second daughter was born Florence tragically passed away, in a fire at the Windsor Hotel in New York.

Philip Henry and his children left New York. In 1908 Henry married Annie Hyatt-Woolfe in Paddington London. It is assumed that Philip, Annie and Philip’s two children spent most their time in England until 1930 when it is known that Henry, a naturalised US citizen, purchased Zealandia Estate on Beaucatcher Mountain in Asheville. Henry developed the property adding a Tudor mansion and founded the Asheville Art Association and Museum which supported his passion for art and collecting.  Henry was a recognised as an international Jewish leader and was a board member of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Miss Violet Rosalie Henry married Brigadier Hartley Alfred Maconochie, of Somerset, England with whom she had one daughter Jean Susan Maconochie.

Inline Image - Ambrose McEvoy (British 1878-1927), 'Miss Violet Henry', Oil on canvas | Est. £7,000-10,000 (+fees), Modern and Contemporary Art, 19 March 2020
Ambrose McEvoy (British 1878-1927), 'Miss Violet Henry', Oil on canvas | Est. £7,000-10,000 (+fees), Modern and Contemporary Art, 19 March 2020

This portrait of Miss Violet Rosalie Henry was painted in 1918 and according to the exhibition held at the Grosvenor Gallery in the year of its conception. The portrait was likely to have been commissioned as part of a series of portraits McEvoy painted for the benefit of the Red Cross. 

Influences of Whistler can be seen in the portrait of Miss Violet Henry. The composition of a girl standing at a mantelpiece with her reflection showing in the mirror was one he had seen in Whistler’s Symphony in White, no.2: The little white girl painted in 1864. McEvoy first experimented with reflections in Ear-ring in 1911 and again in Myrtle in 1912, however its whereabouts is unknown.

Inline Image - James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Symphony in White, No.2, 'The Little White Girl'. Image courtesy of the Tate, London
James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Symphony in White, No.2, 'The Little White Girl'. Image courtesy of the Tate, London

1920: Duveen Brothers

McEvoy took his first trip to the United States on the invitation of the Duveen Brothers in 1919. The aim of holding an exhibition with the Duveen brothers was to introduce wealthy American patrons to McEvoy’s work. The inclusion of accomplished portraits of recognisable society figures was crucial in gaining the confidence of the new market. The portrait of Miss Violet Henry, was transported to New York in 1920 for this ground-breaking Duveen brother’s exhibition of McEvoy’s work.

Inline Image - Image courtesy of Philip Mould
Image courtesy of Philip Mould

Joseph Duveen organised McEvoy’s accommodation and a personal valet for his time in New York. On his arrival with the help of Duveen and patrons from the UK, McEvoy immersed himself in New York high society joining both the Racquet and Tennis Club and the Union Club two of the most illustrious clubs in the city. A perfect environment to develop new relationships with prospective clients. 

The exhibition in New York ran from 10th March 1920 to the end of the month and exhibited thirty-eight oil paintings and a small collection of watercolours. The exhibition not only included Miss Violet Henry but also some of the most important works now on display at Philip Mould including Silver and Grey (Mrs Charles McEvoy) (Philip Mould Cat no.5), Odette (Philip Mould Cat no.4) and Lady Gwendoline Churchill (Philip Mould Cat no.11) to name just a few. On the back of the success of the exhibition McEvoy was inundated with commissions and it was clear his reputation which he had worked hard to cement in London was building in New York. 

With only a week left to visit the retrospective exhibition at Philip Mould gallery drop all your plans this weekend and clear that diary because this is an exhibition worth viewing. The gallery is the perfect space for this unique and exquisite collection of works, loaned from private and public collections, it is unlikely a chance to see a collection of works by McEvoy on this scale will come around again. 

Inline Image - Ambrose McEvoy, ‘Silver and Grey’. On display at Philip Mould, cat no.5. Image courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester.
Ambrose McEvoy, ‘Silver and Grey’. On display at Philip Mould, cat no.5. Image courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester.

EXHIBITION DETAILS
Divine People, The Art of Ambrose McEvoy (1877-1927)
26 November 2019 - 24 January 2020
18-19 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5LU
www.philipmould.com

 

MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY ART
Thursday 19 March 2020 | Consignment deadline: 30 January 2020
We are still welcoming consignments, please contact our Fine Art Department for a complimentary no obligation valuation:
+ 44 (0) 1635 553 553 | pictures@dreweatts.com
Request a valuation

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