NON-WHITES IN BRITISH PAINTING – PART III

Venice Beach, 4 May 2019

Yesterday, by sheer happenstance, my wife and I took in an exhibition entitled “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983)” at the Broad museum in Los Angeles. In one section, this was written on the wall: “During this period, centering the Black figure – historically marginalized in Western painting – was radical. Many artists created powerful images of Black Americans, including portraits of writers, artists, and everyday people.” It is true that the non-whites in almost all the paintings I showed in the last two posts are not centre-stage. So as a follow-up to my last two posts, I have decided to do some centering of my own, extracting the portraits of non-whites which are to be found in Art UK’s database. Here is the result: not quite all the ones I found; I chose the best.

Head of a Man (? Ira Frederick Aldridge) (?c. 1827), by John Simpson (1782-1847). Photo credit: Tate. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence

Interesting fellow, Ira Frederick Aldridge, whose portrait this almost certainly is. An African American, he found himself constantly discriminated against as an actor in New York and so came to the UK in 1825. Thereafter, he had a very successful acting career, both in the UK as well as in the rest of Europe. There was of course a dearth of black characters in plays, so occasionally he took on roles as white European characters, for which he would be appropriately made up with greasepaint and wig. I love the idea: blackface in reverse …

After this, we have a number of portraits of anonymous people who sat as models.

Portrait of an African (c. 1861), by George Harrison (1840-1910). Photo credit: Royal Cambrian Academy of Art

Even though the model’s face is hidden in this next portrait, I thought of including it because it is the first portrait of a woman.

Female Figure Seated (1898), by Evelyn Cheston (1875-1929).  Photo credit: UCL Art Museum
Negro in White (c. 1922), by Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1887-1937). Photo credit: Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council)

The next portrait is the first I found of a South Asian.

Bapsybanoo, Marchioness of Winchester (c. 1930), by Augustus Edwin John (1878-1961). © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Royal Academy of Arts

Intriguing woman, Bapsybanoo Pavry. She was born in Bombay, daughter of a Parsi Zoroastrian “Head Priest”. She came to the UK at a young age, determined to use her great beauty (and presumably great riches) to break into high society. She was about 30 when Augustus John painted her portrait. 20 years later, aged 51, she managed what she thought was a great coup: she married the Marquess of Winchester. Admittedly, he was marrying for the third time, was 90 years old, impotent, and bankrupt. But he was la crème de la crème of British aristocracy. Alas! Within weeks of marrying her, he eloped with his former fiancée Eve Fleming, mother of Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame), first to Monte Carlo and then to the Bahamas. Bapsybanoo followed them there, but was reduced to pacing up and down in front of their house and shaking her fist at them. Of course, she became a figure of ridicule in British high society, who no doubt felt that this Indian parvenue had got what she deserved. She eventually returned to India and died in 1995.

Melita (1931), by Ronald Ossory Dunlop (1894-1973). © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Leeds Museums and Galleries
Head of a Negro (c. 1935), by Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937). Photo credit: Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

The artist who painted this last picture, Glyn Philpot, spent most of his career in the UK as a pretty conventional Edwardian portrait painter. Then in his last five years or so, he moved to Paris, his palette lightened and his style became more modern. He painted numerous paintings of people of African origin in this period, a good number of which are in Art UK’s database. This painting is of a young Jamaican, Henry Thomas, who was his lover.

I include the next painting, of Nurse Brown, to remind ourselves of the huge role non-whites played, and continue to play, in the UK’s health service. Although the painting is undated, I’m guessing it is from the immediate post-World War II period.

Nurse Brown (undated), by Irene Welburn (active 1936-55). © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

I include the next two paintings because they intrigue me. They are both set in what we could consider an iconic UK context, Trafalgar Square. One shows three Indian women and the other Caribbean family in the square, with white families forming a background. I wonder what the artist was trying to tell us? That non-whites were now a part of the UK landscape?

Indian Women in Trafalgar Square, London (1950-62), by Harold Dearden (1888-1962). © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Museum of London
Caribbean Family in Trafalgar Square, London (1950-62), by Harold Dearden (1888-1962). © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Museum of London

Perhaps immigrants were becoming more visible. This next painting is actually entitled “The Immigrant”.

The Immigrant (1960-80), by George Hodgkinson (1914-1997). © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Tameside Museums and Galleries Service: The Astley Cheetham Art Collection
Ester Thuriappah (Indian Girl Wearing a Sari) (1964), by James Scott (b. 1920). © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Royal Ulster Academy Diploma Collection
Head of a Girl (1971), by Craigie Ronald John Aitchison (1926-2009). © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Rugby Art Gallery and Museum Art Collections
Negro Lady (1978), by Mary Kempson. © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Bassetlaw District Council

It’s in this period that we see the first non-white councillor, the first step on the political ladder. It is David Pitt, who was councillor, the first non-white councillor ever, and later chairman of the Greater London Council. He was later made a member of the House of Lords, the pinnacle, one might say, of the British political establishment.

David Thomas Pitt, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, Councillor and Chairman of the Greater London Council (1976), by Edward Irvine Halliday (1902-1984). © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: City of London Corporation

David Pitt tried twice to be elected as an MP. It seems that the British population was not ready for that. More or less overt racism seems to have been behind his loss both times.

As we enter the 1980s, the pace picks up, and non-white artists begin to make an appearance.

Head and Window (1984), by Andrew Stahl (b. 1954). © the artist. Photo credit: Leicestershire County Council Artworks Collection

As far as I can make out, this next painting is the first by a non-white artist in this series.

Man on a Horse (1987), by Gilford Brown. © the artist. Photo credit: Wellcome Collection
Chris Ofili (1989), by Susan Thomas. © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service
Figure and Rocket (1990), by Andrew Stahl (b. 1954). © the artist. Photo credit: Leicestershire County Council Artworks Collection
Wanting to Say I (before 1998), by Eugene Palmer (b. 1955). © the artist. Photo credit: The New Art Gallery Walsall
Woman’s Head (1991), by Patrick Martin (b. 1958). © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Leicestershire County Council Artworks Collection
Changing Face (1994-95), by Andrew Tift. © Andrew Tift. Photo credit: Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

This is the first portrait which I found of an Asian entering the political mainstream.

Nirmal Dhindsa Singh (1995), by Trevor Hodgkison (b. 1928). © the artist. Photo credit: Derby Museums Trust

This next portrait is the first in this series to celebrate a sportsman, in this case the boxer Randy Turpin. Interestingly enough, it was painted some 40 years after his triumphs and 30 years after his death: British Middleweight champion 1950-54, World Middleweight champion 1951 and 1953. Why did it take so long to get around to painting his portrait, I wonder? I rather suspect that Warwick Town Council rather tardily remembered one of its more famous local sons.

Randolf Adolphus Turpin (1995), by Gina Busby. © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Warwick Town Council

This next painting certainly brings back memories for me, of the corner shops that were suddenly being run by South Asians. But we’re talking of the 1970s, while this portrait was only painted in 2000.

Rajesh Patel, Shop Owner (2000), by Hans Schwarz (1922-2003). © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Girton College, University of Cambridge
Self Portrait (2000), by Barbara Walker (b. 1964). © the artist. Photo credit: The Collection: Art & Archaeology in Lincolnshire (Usher Gallery)

I rather like this next double portrait of mother and daughter. It captures beautifully the process of integration, from one generation to the next.

Muktaben Bhogaita and Daughter Alka (2001), by Alan Parker (b. 1965). © the artist. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service

And here we arrive at the pinnacle the British political elites. Paul Boateng was able to be elected MP, he became the first non-white member of the Cabinet, and after a spell as High Commissioner to South Africa he became a member of the House of Lords.

Paul Boateng (2003), by Jonathan Yeo (b. 1970). © the artist. Photo credit: Parliamentary Art Collection

One other pinnacle has been scaled, first black woman MP. The honour goes to Diane Abbot, Labour MP.

Diane Abbott, MP (2004), by Stuart Pearson Wright (b. 1975). © Palace of Westminster. Photo credit: Parliamentary Art Collection

There is another elite, the military elite, which we have not had examples of yet. As of 2016, there wasn’t a single non-white in the British army’s top 133 positions. Perhaps it’s improved slightly since then although I doubt it. But there is also an elite of courage. Here, we have Johnson Beharry, who I believe is the first black British recipient of the Victoria Cross, the UK’s highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy. He won it during the Iraq war (there have been a good number of non-white recipients of the Victoria Cross, but they have all been Commonwealth troops).

Johnson Gideon Beharry (2006), by Emma Wesley (b. 1979). © National Portrait Gallery, London. Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery, London

As for the future, let’s give space to the kids!

Jaida (2008), by Rhiannon Fraser (b. 1986). © the artist. Photo credit: Charnwood Borough Art Collection
The Traveller (2008), by Valery Koroshilov (b. 1961). © the artist. Photo credit: The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust

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Abellio

I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. http://ipaintingsforsale.com/UploadPic/Gustav Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg

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