Our auction of Modern and Contemporary Art comprises traditional and post-war Modern British art, alongside Impressionist and international contemporary art spanning the breadth of the 20th century up to the present day. We are pleased to be offering an intimate portrait by Glyn Philpot depicting the American philanthropist and art collector Robert Allerton. Francesca Whitham, Head of Sale, tells us more.
Lot 61: Glyn Warren Philpot (British 1884-1937), 'Robert Allerton, as a Faun', oil on canvas | Est. £15,000-20,000 (+ fees)
Allerton was ‘Everything that is beautiful and true’
~ Glyn Philpot, letter to Daisy Philpot, 6 September 1913, quoted in Simon Martin, Glyn Philpot, Flesh and Spirit, p.36
This sensitive and intimate portrait depicts the American philanthropist and art collector Robert Allerton. He was the son of Samuel Walters Allerton who made his fortunes through the livestock trade in Chicago and was co-founder of the First National Bank of Chicago. Determined not to follow in his father’s footsteps Robert Allerton decided to follow his passion for the arts and study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich followed by study in Paris. However, after just five years Allerton returned to Illinois to run the family farms.
Allerton owned and managed a 12,000 acre estate in Monticello, Illinois, sat on the Sangamon river which became known as ‘The Farms’. Here he built a beautiful Georgian mansion in the style of Ham House in Richmond, inspired by his travels in London. The mansion served as a place to hold lavish parties where he invited artists, friends and notable people from high society. In 1906 the Chicago Tribune released an article surrounding Allerton and his wealth, titled the ‘Richest Batchelor in Chicago’. The article used a photograph of Allerton surrounded by cartoons of women blushing and falling at his feet describing his physical appearance:
‘His features are cleanly cut and his head is set firmly above muscular shoulders. He is a man of medium height, active, robust, well proportioned.’ (Chicago Tribune, 18 February 1906)
Robert Allerton | Courtesy of Allerton Park and Retreat Center, University of Illinois
Allerton’s prominent position in the public eye generated great interest in his personal life. In 1922, Allerton met John Gregg who soon after moved into The Farms. The topic of same-sex relationships during this period was extremely controversial and same-sex marriage was only legalised in the state of Illinois in 2014. The pair were companions for forty years and in 1960 Robert adopted John Gregg as his son.
Robert Allerton was a patron of the arts and travelled widely across Europe and Asia. In 1920 he started donating works to the Art Institute of Chicago including pieces by Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Auguste Rodin. By the time of his death in 1964 he had donated 6600 pieces, making him one of the most important benefactors in its history. Allerton also gifted his house, grounds and farmland to the University of Illinois to be used as an education and research centre.
Faun & Satyr by Glyn Philpot, over the mantelpiece at Allerton's home 'The Farms' | Courtesy of Allerton Park and Retreat Center, University of Illinois
This mischievous portrait symbolising the mythological faun was not the first time Philpot had explored the subject. In 1912, Philpot sculpted ‘The Dead Faun’ cast in bronze, believed to be a mask depicting Napier Sturt, Lord Allington. In the spring of 1913, Nijinsky was performing ‘L’Apres-midi d’un faune’ with the Ballet Russes at the Royal Opera House. Philpot produced a dramatic portrayal of Nijinsky as the faun stood against the sumptuous red velvet theatre curtain. This work is now held in a private collection. It was during one of these visits to the opera that Philpot and Allerton first met. Allerton invited the aspiring young artist to visit him in Monticello to which Philpot gladly accepted.
In September 1913, Philpot boarded the R.M.S Carmania and set sail on his adventure to the USA. The trip began with a visit to John and Rue Carpenter but he was quick to follow up on the invitation to stay with Robert Allerton the philanthropist and art collector. Philpot’s arrival caught the attention of ‘Madame X’ who wrote for the Chicago Sunday Times. The paper published an article on 21st September 1913 which dubbed the artist ‘the art sensation of the moment,’ and highlighted his highly regarded reputation back in England.
The Chicago Sunday Tribune, February 18, 1906
Allerton arranged a studio space for Philpot to work from during his stay at The Farms and invited close friends and members of the Chicago elite to have their portrait painted. It was during this visit that he completed a portrait of Miss Isabelle McBirney. Enamoured by the people and experience Philpot stayed for four months.
The present lot was painted by Philpot during this stay at The Farms in 1913. However, it was not the only portrait Philpot produced of Allerton during this period. A beautifully simple and captivating portrait titled The Man in Black reveals Allerton in side profile with his head turned slightly towards the viewer. The strong silhouette created by the black cloak and shadows that bounce off the beige wall showcase Philpot’s ability to add depth and character to the simplest of compositions. The work is now held in the Tate collection in London.
This portrait of Allerton is strikingly different from all other known portraits and photographs of Allerton who was usually presented dressed in a smart suit, suitably posed and professional. This shirtless portrait, shows off his muscular shoulders and shows a very intimate side to his character who enjoyed walking the grounds of his home in the nude. Allerton was a quiet and kind character. He was an introvert who socialised with a small group of close friends, the opposite personality traits to the mischievous nature of the fauns from mythology. The admiration for Allerton and connection between the two figures exudes from the surface of the canvas. Philpot and Allerton are not believed to have engaged in a sexual relationship but in letters written to Philpot’s sister, Philpot reveals his infatuation with Allerton and described him as ‘the most beautiful wise mature character’ (letter to Daisy Philpot, 22 October 1913). Philpot excelled in portraiture where a link and bond could be established with the sitter.
The present portrait is believed to be have been a study for a later painting produced by Philpot during his second visit to Allerton in 1921, when he visited with his partner Vivian Forbes. The pair stayed for three months and Philpot painted society portraiture just as Allerton had arranged back in 1913. During their visit Philpot produced ‘Faun and Satyr’ which was hung above the over-mantel. Unfortunately this work was moved to Allerton’s estate in Kauai, Hawaii and later destroyed in a hurricane. Allerton is known to have a couple of garden statues which depicted the mythological faun and also a bass relief of pan on the carriage house on the estate, which may have further influenced Philpot’s decision to depict Allerton as a faun.
In 2022, Dreweatts were pleased to sponsor the Glyn Philpot: Flesh and Spirit exhibition at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, which was the first major exhibition of British artist Glyn Philpot R.A. (1884-1937) in almost 40 years.
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Wednesday 15 March | 10.30am GMT
Donnington Priory, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2JE
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