Gabrielle, the title for this glorious picture, was not the name of the model and it was probably not intended to depict a character from literature or history. Flint chose a French name for a similar nude Monique La Belle Nageuse (sold in these rooms, 9 December 2020, lot 124) and in both Monique and Gabrielle, the French forename is probably intended to suggest continental glamour and exoticism - evoking a Chanel model from a Paris catwalk, a dancer from the Folie Bergere or sun-worshipper from the promenade at Antibes. There is a sense of confidence and flamboyant display in 'Gabrielle's' attitude which may have appealed to Freddie Mercury the showman who lived only a ten-minute walk from Flint's former studio. Flint's work was one of Freddie Mercury's last passions - he bought five examples in the last year of his life, Gabrielle was the last and bought only a few weeks before he died.
In 1955, the same year that Flint exhibited Gabrielle at the Royal Academy, he published a book Models of Propriety, Occasional Caprices for the Edification of Ladies and the Delight of Gentlemen in which he presented thirty ‘biographies’ of models with absurd names like Euphemia Meaker, Maggie Shrinkaway and Rosina Dumplington and equally risqué back-stories. This, along with the fictional names of women in his pictures, was all part of the artifice and glamour of his art in which he created a world of suggestion and implication. However Flint's art was serious and his technical ability was superb. Few watercolour artists could depict the liquidity of water or the transience of light on flesh like Flint and when he used tempera, as in Gabrielle, his brilliance of colour was superb. The contrasts of the coloured draperies is joyous and whilst they are included to emphasise the lack of draperies on the nude model, they also add a dynamism to the composition, their angularity contrasting with the languid curves of the nude girl.
The model for Gabrielle was a former ballerina, Cecilia Green (1931-2003), a beautiful, talented and intelligent young woman who appears in many of the artist's greatest pictures from 1953 when they first met, in roles as diverse as a Spanish flamenco dancer and a French nun in a convent. For thirteen years Green’s face and physique dominated Flint’s work and with the huge popularity of his prints, she graced the walls of thousands of homes. She became so famous that she was often recognised in the street – much to her embarrassment as complete strangers would introduce themselves to her knowing what she looked like when she was naked. In 1995, when she was interviewed by a journalist, she explained the disconnect between herself and the pictures she posed for; “I never really saw it as me. It was a picture. Even a portrait of 'Cecilia'. Cecilia's this or Cecilia's that. It's not me, it's a name. There's lots of people called Cecilia. I didn't see them as portraits of me. Just pictures.'' (Cecilia Green, ‘The Woman in the Picture’, in The Herald, 1995)