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PROPERTY OF A DESCENDANT OF THE SITTER

Sir Frank Dicksee P.R.A.
PORTRAIT OF MRS AUSTIN MACKENZIE
JUMP TO LOT
20

PROPERTY OF A DESCENDANT OF THE SITTER

Sir Frank Dicksee P.R.A.
PORTRAIT OF MRS AUSTIN MACKENZIE
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art

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London

Sir Frank Dicksee P.R.A.
1853-1928
PORTRAIT OF MRS AUSTIN MACKENZIE
signed and dated l.r: FRANK DICKSEE/ -1918-
oil on canvas, to be sold with a copy of the sitter's unpublished autobiography
127 by 101cm., 50 by 40in.
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Provenance

Commissioned by the sitter Mary Frances Mackenzie and her husband Captain Austin Mackenzie of Charles Street, London and Carradale in Argyllshire and thence by descent to the present owner

Exhibited

Royal Academy, 1918, no.167

Catalogue Note

'Portraits supplant the individuals they represent. They function as analogues, existing in parallel to their subjects. They fix a moment within a lifetime, within an era. They therefore provide communication with the past of a most significant kind.' (Kenneth McConkey, Edwardian Portraits - Images of an Age of Opulence, 1987, p.9) In the first two decades of the twentieth century Dicksee had a reputation as one of the most fashionable painters of female portraits, known for his flattering depictions of female sitters and for emphasising their beauty with accessories and glorious fabrics. As Stanley Olson ventured in 1985, Edwardian portraiture represents more than merely the depiction of sitters in fine garments; ‘…they are more than the chattels of the past; they amass as the human directory of previous generations, speaking the romantic language of opulence, in a grammar much unchanged since Van Dyck. But time has played the ancestral gallery foul, disturbing the established logic: the sitter has ceased to matter and the distorting lens of nostalgia has been lowered into position. And what was originally meant to be visual upholstery of genealogical graphs has become the souvenirs of the past.’ (Society Portraits 1850-1939, exhibition catalogue for Colnaghi and The Clarendon Gallery, 1985, p.10) Dicksee’s popularity as a portrait painter coincided with a financial boom in the Edwardian era and a desire by the wealthy elite to represent themselves as people of refined taste and elegance. This reflected a flourishing of portraiture that had taken place in the eighteenth century and Dicksee sought to emulate the great painters of that period in his own work. He recognised that the aristocratic families of Britain wanted portraits that complimented, rather than contrasted, the ‘Swagger Portraits’ of their forebears by Gainsborough, Reynolds and Romney. In a recent exhibition catalogue, this connection has been explained: 'Portraits from the early twentieth century shared certain characteristics with those from the eighteenth that were often executed on large-format canvases with unrestrained bravura. Both responded to a need for artworks that registered concerns about public display and status.' (Angus Trumble and Andrea Wolk Roger (eds.), Edwardian Opulence - British Art at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century, 2013, p.78) 

Dicksee’s ability to flatter his female sitters is evident in the portrait of the forty-eight year old ‘Mamie’ Mary Frances Mackenzie (née Linton 1870-1948), eldest of the three daughters of Captain James Henry Wingfield Linton. She married her second husband Austin Mackenzie in 1913 and wrote playfully in her unpublished memoires: ‘Austin Mackenzie wanted to marry me, and as I had no cook, and he had, I thought it would be the best thing to do.’ She also recalled the sittings for this glamorous portrait by Dicksee; ‘We had a very nice time when my picture was being painted. Frank Dicksee had a house with a big studio in Greville Place just off the far end of Maida Vale. I had twenty-two sittings. We used to walk to Dorchester House just after breakfast and get a No. 16 bus that took us right up Maida Vale to his turning: we always went on top, in front as a rule, and only once was it wet and we had to go inside. The studio was full of beautiful things, pictures, books etc.’ (Unpublished memoirs of M. F. Mackenzie, 1943, vol III, pp. 56-57) Dicksee was initially unsure about how best to pose Mamie and the placing of her left arm was problematic. She asked Dicksee to paint her with her arm resting on the head of Rubie, her beloved Labrador but he tactfully thwarted this idea by saying that he could not paint dogs, despite the fine portrayal of his cousin Herbert’s French bulldog Shaver in his portrait of his neice Dorothy Dicksee painted a year earlier (sold in these rooms, 10 March 2005, lot 247). ‘I told him afterwards that when the picture came out of the Academy I would get an animal painter to put Rubie in, this upset him very much as it seems he admired my arms very much and he told me the painting of my left arm was the best bit of painting he had ever done in his life.’ The painting of Mamie’s other arm was less disputed and she liked the inclusion of a fan as she never felt dressed in the evening unless she was carrying one.

Dicksee’s virtuosity as a painter of textures is demonstrated in Mamie’s portrait with the contrasts of fine lace over ivory chiffon and flawless skin. Dicksee sat Mamie on one of the Chippendale-style sofas that appear in many of his portraits leaning against expensive embroidered cushions, with a tapestry of golden peacocks behind. On her gown she has a fine jewel and in her hair is a diamond pin in the form of a butterfly. 'Dicksee had a distinctive, thickly impasted and textured style of painting; his sensitivity to the qualities of surface is evident in the portraits he painted, where he emphasises the contrasts of textures between materials and the skin and hair of his subjects, as in any of his subject pictures.' (Society Portraits 1850-1939, exhibition catalogue for Colnaghi and The Clarendon Gallery, 1985, p.78)

Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art

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London