Sir Stanley Unwin (acquired directly from the artist in 1959)
Thence by descent to the present owners
Being not only the founder and chairman of George Allen and Unwin Ltd. Publishing house, but also the President of the Publishers Association of Great Britain and Ireland, Sir Stanley Unwin was truly dedicated to his trade. He had a deep belief in the written word and freedom of thought which led to the publication of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and more controversial authors such as Ghandi, Thor Heyerdahl and R.H. Tawney.
When it was decided to have a portrait of the company's chairman and founder painted, Unwin left the arrangements to his son Rayner who writes that 'we were determined not to have the sort of dull likeness that one could see in so many boardrooms.' After considering various possible artists, the Austrian Oskar Kokoschka was selected. He would work in Unwin's office while the latter was following his daily routine, making calls or receiving clients and visitors. As the painter liked to stand whilst working and did not want to 'look down on his victim' (Kokoschka's wife in a letter), a podium was fashioned for Unwin to sit on.
Rayner Unwin describes how worried he was about the two strong personalities working side by side and that Kokoschka's habit of keeping a bottle of whisky next to his easel might have been a point of contention. However these worries were unfounded as artist and subject immediately got along splendidly and even stayed friends afterwards. Having ensured the image rights in advance of the painting process, Unwin was so satisfied with the finished artwork that he used it on the dust jacket of his own autobiography 'The Truth about a Publisher' (1960).
Kokoschka painted the portrait without any preliminary sketches or drawings, passionately building up layers and layers of paint. This vigorous slightly abstracted application delivers a lively feel and helps portray the strong personality of the sitter. In his mature portraits as well as his city views, Kokoschka conveys structure not through a reproduction of reality but instead through colour. By enhancing a characteristic feature, a famous building or a distinct facial feature, the artist ensures recognition without too much detail. This leads to a representation beyond what is immediately visible and opens up a new realm of representation. With swift, dynamic brushstrokes the artist manages to capture the character and soul of his sitter, bringing the painting to life.
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