Friday, May 13, 2011

Molti Ritratti: Dame Edith Sitwell

Edith Sitwell (1887-1964), poet, critic, female component of a trio of artsy siblings well connected to the English upper crust, did not escape the portrait painter's brush as can be seen below. Her Wikipedia entry is here.

Sitwell's depictions are of interest because several of the artists were her friends -- especially Pavel Tchelitchev (transliterations of his name from the Russian vary). Of more interest is that these artists were modernists of one stripe or another in a period where all artists were trying to figure what to do with modernism in the wake of that decade or so of all those "isms" cascading down from (mostly) Paris. Adding to the complexity of the situation, they were painting portraits -- meaning that the results had to relate in a least some small manner to their purported subject.


Photo of Sitwell

By Roger Fry
As best I can tell from citations, both the portraits by Fry were painted 1918 or thereabouts. Fry was an art critic and theoretician (popularizing the term "Post-Impressionism") who also did portraits and some other works.

By Alvaro Guevara, c. 1919

By Pavel Tchelitchev - c. 1930
Tchelitchev is best known as a Surrealist, but that movement was still more literary and political than painting-oriented when Sitwell sat for this work.

By Windham Lewis
Lewis was England's best-known modernist portrait artist when this was painted (begin in 1923 but not "completed" -- her hands were never added -- until 1935).

By Pavel Tchelitchev - 1935
According to the link above, Sitwell was quite taken with Tchelitchev even though their approaches to sex probably destined the relationship to be on the Platonic side. Neither Tchelitchev portrait shown here (as well as others) depicts Sitwell in a remotely flattering light. But she apparently didn't mind. The image above seems to be a scan from a book.

By Feliks Topolski
This portrait is an exception in that it was made decades later than the others and when Abstract Expressionism was the flavor of the day.


mike shupp said...

Interesting in an odd way. Clearly Dame Edith was, once upon a time, a woman in her thirties, as the photograph shows. And from the dates of the paintings, the portaits were made when she was in her thirties or forties. Yet all but the second Fry portrait show a woman in her sixties, seventies, or even eighties. Is that really the impression she gave to people? Or was some sort of distortion endemic in English painting at the time?

Donald Pittenger said...

Mike -- Perhaps I should have included a later photo of her. That's because the one posted is perhaps the most flattering one I've ever seen. Google on her and then flip to Images and you ought to find a number of photos taken after the one shown.

dearieme said...

Here's Dame E in performance.

mike shupp said...

I've been enlightened, and thank you. I guess ... some folks just shouldn't make friends of painters.

mike shupp said...

Well, upon second thought, that first thought was, hmmmmm, thoughtless. It probably is greatfully rewarding for an artist to paint a subject that is simply of intrinsic interest without requiring that the work appeal to philistines who tolerate nothing beyond conventional "beauty."

That said, I'll renew my appreciation for the works by Roger Fry. They suggest a thoughtful, engaged, intelligent woman with a somewhat critical attitude. The other images seem vapid in comparison.