38 x 28 cm
Mrs. Ambrose McEvoy
Miss E. Doucet
Arthur Tooth & Sons, London, 1945
Thence by descent
London, Alex. Reid & Lefevre (details untraced)
London, Arthur Tooth & Sons, 1945 (details untraced)
Leeds, Temple Newsam House, Paintings and Drawings by Augustus John O.M. R.A., 24 July-31 August 1946, cat no.83
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Diploma Gallery, Exhibition of Works by August John, 13 March-27 June 1954, cat no.59, illus b/w p17
Sheffield, Graves Art Gallery, Augustus John, 25 August-8 October 1956, cat no.66
London, Upper Grosvenor Galleries, A Loan Exhibition of Drawings and Murals by Augustus John, 1-30 April 1965, cat no.56
London, Olympia, Augustus John, 23-28 February 1999, cat no.66
London, Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, Augustus John: Master Works from Private Collections, 29 September-29 October 2004, illus colour
DescriptionJohn Rothenstein writes of John, ‘…his portraits are not merely romantic tributes to the elements of greatness he discerns; they rarely suffer from the absence of the critical spirit, or from the complacent touch of personal appropriation that characterises the great Victorians of Watts. John’s portraits are the products of a more sceptical nature and a less reverent age…John, whose sitters are more arbitrarily chosen, portrays the noble qualities in men and women whose natures on balance are as often base as noble.’ 1
The subject of this drawing is Mary McEvoy (née Edwards), an artist and wife of the painter Ambrose McEvoy. Both were students at the Slade, and Mary, who was eight years older than Ambrose, had exhibited at the New English Arts Club between 1900 and 1906, before abandoning painting until after her husband’s death in 1927. Ambrose had studied alongside Augustus and Gwen John at the Slade and, together with William Orpen and Benjamin Evans, they formed a group of talented young artists that were destined for success at the turn of the 20th century.
Ambrose McEvoy, like John, was a popular portrait artist and the pair travelled extensively in Europe before sharing a studio at 76 Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, in 1898. It was, however, with John’s sister Gwen that he shared the closest relationship, marking a brief but dramatic period in both their lives, which ended when McEvoy became engaged to Mary Edwards.
John was a master-draughtsman and was regarded as one of the most successful society painters of the past century. This drawing, however, was not a formal commission and instead, on its completion, remained in the McEvoys' personal collection. The implication of this drawing, a gift between friends, is reflected in the tangible tenderness and intimacy that it displays.
John’s portrait is remarkably complete, his soft, slanting strokes wonderfully capturing the light as it falls onto the sitter’s face in a subtle glow.
1 John Rothenstein, Augustus John, Paintings and Drawings, Phaidon, Oxford, 1945, p20