WILLIAM LEECH, R.H.A.
signed l.r.: Leech
oil on canvas
87 by 68cm.; 34¼ by 26¾in.
Painted in 1947.
Original canvas. The work appears in excellent overall condition. Some minor surface dirt to the sitter's breast.
Ultraviolet light reveals an opaque varnish. There appears to be some minor flecks of retouching in the lower and upper right corners.
Held in a gilt wood frame with canvas inset.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
Dawson Gallery, Dublin;
James Adam Salerooms & Bonhams, Dublin, 30 May 2007, lot 83, where purchased by the present owner
Dublin, Royal Hibernian Academy, 1947;
Dublin, Dawson Gallery, 1947, no.13 (as Nude);
Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, William John Leech: An Irish Painter Abroad, 23 October - 15 December 1996, no.90
A. Denson, An Irish Artist: W. J. Leech R.H.A. (1881-1968), Kendal, 1968, no.28 (as Female nude study);
Denise Ferran, William John Leech: An Irish Painter Abroad, NGI, 1996, no.90, illustrated p.258
The present painting marks a dramatic departure from those familiar with the earlier part of Leech's career, particularly his landscapes painted while studying and working in France. However, the same fluid brushwork, feeling for colour and tone is successfully achieved in the rendering of the skin of the model in the present work. This change in direction towards a more intimiste view had its origins in his meeting with May Botterell, who became his model and lover. It influenced the style and subject of his works away from more formal society portraits and culminated in Nude (private collection) portraying May half-reclining on a bed – the focus firmly on form. As Denise Ferran has commented, Leech had 'now arrived at a style of painting which with paint-laden and decisive brushstrokes gives movement, energy and excitement to all his works irrespective of subject matter' (Ferran, op. cit., p.214).
In The Refugee the model sits languidly, her head in her right hand and left hand draped over her knees. The background is sparse and the tones muted, heightening the solitariness of the model who has an air of introspection. This perhaps plays on the title of the work, although Leech offers no further explanation. It is a highly sensitive portrayal, and Leech's soft modelling of the skin is consummate.
Leech regarded the study of the figure as 'the closest search for beauty.' He communicated this further in a letter to his friend and artist Dr Helena Wright while he was painting the present work: 'when people start drawing from the figure they are serious, have you discovered lots of hidden things? and lovely things, such as that a woman standing seems to grow from the ground in a most perfect way, with a line and balance that no plant ever achieved... In our search for beauty, I sometimes think, we have a better chance of getting near it, with the figure than in any other way, who knows' (quoted in Ferran, op. cit., p.256).
Leech sent the present work and another of the same model, called The Negress (model) (private collection) to Leo Smith of the Dawson Gallery in 1947 for a small exhibition of his work. Rating it highly, he wrote a covering letter to Smith: 'I could send more, but these are all very good and would make a most interesting show. I would like to send you that nude of the Black woman, it is so well painted. It ought to be in the Nat. Gallery' (Ibid.)