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Glyn Philpot, R.A.
1884-1937
THE MERMAID
‘Brilliant students do not always fulfill their early promise, but there was a certain quality in Glyn’s work and to himself which convinced me that here was an exceptional being who would make his mark in the world.’ (Reproduced in J.P. Delaney, Glyn Phlipot, His Life and Art, Ashgate Publishing, 1999, p11)

So wrote Philip Connard, Philpot’s tutor at Lambeth Art School, to the artist’s sister in 1945, recalling the early promise and natural talent that Philpot displayed as a young student. Philpot had enrolled at the School, which had a very good reputation under the guidance of the headmaster, John Sparkes in 1900 and his ability was formally recognized early on when, in the spring of 1901, he was the first out of 112 candidates to be awarded a two- year scholarship.

Philpot created The Mermaid aged just eighteen and it reveals both his natural ability as draughtsman as well as the early and varied influences that he was beginning to absorb whilst at the school. Charles Rickett and Charles Shannon, two older students who had studied at Lambeth in 1882 and who would go on to collaborate with one another on the magazine The Dial 1889–97, and the Vale Press 1896–1904, would prove to be two figures whose work would have a lasting influence on the younger Philpot. From 1900-1904 Phlipot printed booklets containing wood cuts on his own press in small editions and the later examples of these reveal an increasing debt to Rickett’s woodcuts which were published in both The Dial and The Vale Press. Philpot’s grounding in this form of printmaking translates directly to the strong sense of pattern which is present in The Mermaid. However, where as in wood-cutting or engraving, space and form is often clearly defined through negative and positive areas, in The Mermaid the application of watercolour lends itself to a wonderful sensitivity of form. In this work the edges of colour fuse with one another beautifully allowing the artist to describe areas of movement such as the unfocused traces of the female figure’s legs beneath the shimmering water which swells around her body.

From Rickett’s also came Philpot’s preference for the figurative and often romantic or allegoric subjects which were considered old fashioned at that time, the avant-garde being dominated by the influence of the French Impressionists. Both Ricketts and Shannon believed in the superiority of ‘history painting’ and in his earlier career this was also a subject that interested Philpot. In early oil paintings such as Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1909 and Melampus and the Centaur, 1919 he directly referenced Greek mythology and in The Mermaid, we see Philpot returning to the same theme, many attributes of the mermaid having found their source in the Sirens of Greek mythology.

The more specific theme of the feminine in relation to water was also explored by Ricketts in the frontispiece to ‘The Dial’, 1886 and by Shannon in several of his paintings including The Birth of Venus, 1898-1904, now in the Tate Gallery’s collection. By titling this work as such, Shannon transforms his sitter into the goddess, Venus and imbues his image with an allegorical history, in the same way, Philpot reimagines the young lady before him as a mermaid from some imagined and unknown world. This idea is heightened by the colours Philpot uses to describe the scene before him, green, glowing hair reminiscent of algae sweeps across the mermaids face as she stands, head bent in a classical pose, in a sea of water coloured with hues of red, blue, green and yellow. The swirling pools of water described here are also reminiscent of the stylistic devices used in much art adopted by the Art Nouveau period, and indeed, The Mermaid shares an affinity with this period in its highly stylized forms and vibrant colours. Further, the unusual choice of  a thin and tall format whose composition focusses on a female protagonist recalls many of the posters created by Alphonse Mucha in the late 1880s.  As such The Mermaid is not only an aesthetically beautiful rendition of the female figure but an amazing sophisticated early work in which a young Philpot absorbs and utilize various influences to create his own unique image of femininity.


signed and titled 
watercolour, gouache and pencil on paper
image: 21 by 7.5cm.; 8¼ by 3in.
Executed circa 1902-03.
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Provenance

Miss Gabrielle Cross, the Artist's niece 
The Fine Art Society, London, where acquired by Claire and Garrick Stephenson
Their sale, Christie's South Kensington, 9th December 2015, lot 57, where acquired by the present owner

Exhibited

London, National Portrait Gallery, Glyn Philpot 1884-1937: Edwardian Aesthete to Thirties London, November 1984 - February 1985, cat. no.76, illustrated p.96;
London, The Fine Art Society, Glyn Philpot RA: Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture from the Estate of Gabrielle Cross, November 1997 - January 1998, cat. no.76. 

Made in Britain

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London