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Portrait of an Artist

Featuring over 85 oil paintings, drawings and prints, the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle presents a major survey of 20th century British portraiture, offering audiences an opportunity to step into the inner world of the artist by shedding light on their personal lives and creative processes.  

11 September 2021 – 26 February 2022

Portrait of an Artist will exhibit work by Sir William Orpen, Ralph Hedley, Hilda Carline, Evelyn Dunbar, Winifred Knights, William Roberts, and Gilbert Spencer, as well as a host of other modern British artists. It will include self-portraiture, artists as depicted by fellow artists, their models and muses, and views of the artist’s home and working spaces.  

“Following the successful collaboration on an earlier 2021 show, WOW: Women Only Works on Paper, the Laing is delighted to present Portrait of an Artist in association again with renowned exhibition organisers, publishers and fine art dealers, Liss Llewellyn. Liss Llewellyn have spent over thirty years working directly with artists’ studios, gaining rare access to works that have hardly been seen since the day they were created”, says Julie Milne, Chief Curator of Art Galleries at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. 

Following the five themes, the exhibition will explore: The Artist’s Studio, Self-Portraits, The Artist’s Entourage, Portraits of Artists by Artists, and Allegories of Creation. 

“Those selected for Portrait of an Artist record the introspective self-gaze of the artist, and moments of intimacy that suggest the artist was in love with their subject – be it a future husband or wife, model or child,” says Julie Milne. “Though not always of obvious importance and sometimes modest in size, the works portray intensely emotional moments, transporting the viewer to where the artist’s personal and working environments overlap.” “Liss Llewellyn have an eye for the deceptively revealing, and the pieces selected for Portrait of an Artist all expose something intimate or personal about the artists that created them,” says exhibition curator Katie Irwin. “The exhibition is a varied account of how these artists viewed and lived in their worlds, from the direct gaze of a self-portrait to an ephemeral moment between artist and sitter.”

A stellar line-up of artworks will be displayed at Newcastle’s Laing Art Gallery, presenting pieces by over 50 artists from the late 19th century to the 1940s. Works travelling to the North East on loan will complemented by popular paintings from the Laing’s own collection, such as Sir William Orpen’s Portrait of the Artist (1908) and Self Portrait (1895) by renowned North-East artist Ralph Hedley.  

Although the majority of the exhibition is devoted to portraits and self-portraits, such as Henry Arthur Riley’s striking Me (1940-42), which depicts the artist wearing his ARP (Air Raid Precautions) uniform, helmet and gas mask, Portrait of an Artist also offers glimpses into the studios, homes and landscapes of the artists and their sitters. In several instances these interiors and environments say much about the artist’s situation or state of mind at the time of painting. 

Charles Mahoney’s Kitchen at Oak Cottage (c.1937) reveals the sense of permanence that the charming cottage he bought in Wrotham in Kent gave to him. Having endured a succession of lodgings, recurrent ill health and financial hardship at the hands of unscrupulous landlords when he was a student, Oak Cottage became Mahoney’s spiritual and physical home. The cottage was too small for a studio so, prompting him to work from a shed in the garden, or the kitchen when it was too cold. The vivid yellow of the dresser and shelf, along with the suggested weight of the furniture adds to the sense that Mahoney had indeed finally found a place that gave him happiness and security.  

In stark contrast to Mahoney’s kitchen, Albert de Belleroche’s The Dining Room of John Singer Sargent (c.1884), shows a very different space in which to paint. Born in Wales, his father was the Marquis de Belleroche, a scion of one of the most ancient French noble families who, being Huguenots, had fled to England in 1685. Following the death of his father in 1871, Albert moved back to Paris with his family.  

In France he associated with the leading painters and intellectuals of the day, including Emile Zola, Oscar Wilde, Albert Moore, Renoir, Degas, and Toulouse-Lautrec. His lifelong friendship with John Singer Sargent is a particularly fascinating example of the relationships developed between artists, the pair shared studios in both Paris and London at different points of their career. 

Sargent moved into the ground-floor studio at 33 Tite Street in 1886. Belleroche and Sargent painted almost identical views of the room, and Belleroche’s version will be seen in the show. Sargent’s version, My Dining-Room, is now at Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts. 

Perhaps presaging Tracey Emin’s My Bed (1998) by nearly sixty years, Robert Austin’s My Bed, Rainy Day (1939) is a pencil and crayon sketch of an unmade bed, with pink and green watercolour used to highlight stitching on the bedspread. Austin found family life and aspects of domesticity an endless source of inspiration, not least drapery, as this fine example of his draughtsmanship shows. 

Leading artist Winifred Knights is shown in two fine portraits from the early years of her career: Colin Gill’s portrait of 1921, and an intimate picture of Winifred sleeping from 1920 by Arnold Mason. Many of the pictures in the Laing exhibition also counter ‘the male gaze’ depiction of female sitters, particularly nudes, and there are fascinating portrayals of women by women, including Margaret Maitland Howard’s Rear view seated nude, 1920, Winifred Knights’ Life drawing, nude three-quarter view, c.1920, Mary Adshead’s Portrait of Daphne Charlton, c.1935 and Mary Potter’s Painting for Life Class, c.1920.  

The inclusion of these, along with Evelyn Dunbar, Phoebe Willets-Dickinson, Hilda Carline, Margaret Gere, Nellie Joshua and Phyllis Dodd, reflects the Laing’s commitment to redressing the imbalance of women artists in UK galleries and exhibitions, by depicting them alongside their male counterparts as complex individuals and accomplished artists in their own right. 

Portrait of an Artist offers an opportunity to step into the inner world of the artist, bringing the lives and image of those who existed behind the canvas to the forefront. Liss Llewellyn have brought together works from public and private collections that expose something intensely personal about those who created them, offering insight into their artistic circles and family lives.” says Katie Irwin. 

“The exhibition is a varied account of how these artists viewed and lived in their worlds. It records the quiet interiors of artists’ studios and homes that will resonate with many of us following the past year, as well as the creative process that is often so mysterious to viewers. That some of the Laing’s most popular works, such as Ralph Hedley’s artist portraits and William Orpen’s self-portrait in homage to Jean Chardin, have been used to complement the exhibition is especially fitting. We hope this exhibition of works by over 50 artists will provide insight into their styles and techniques, as well as an enticing glimpse of how these artists saw themselves.” 

The exhibition will be accompanied by a new Liss Llewellyn publication which will be launched at the Laing exhibition. The publication will be 400 pages long, and will feature over 130 artists and 385 illustrations. A selection of works from the publication will be showcased at the Laing, including masterpieces from the Laing’s own collection.  

To find out more visit www.laingartgallery.org.uk, follow us on Instagram and Twitter @LaingArtGallery and ‘Laing Art Gallery’ on Facebook. 

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