Friday, February 14, 2014

Simon Elwes: "Downton Abbey" Portrait and Others

Downton Abbey has been the hot television show for several seasons now, an addiction for many people, including my wife. I have never watched it, and lack motivation to do so.

But I keep my eyes peeled, as a blogger should.

For example, I've been noticing this book (described here in the Daily Mail). Actually, what I really notice is the portrait on the cover. A little Googling revealed that the painter was Lt. Col. Simon Edmund Vincent Paul Elwes (1902-1975). A usefully long Wikipedia entry about him is here.

Elwes is yet another of those born-in-the-twentieth-century British painters I was ignorant of. From the Wikipedia entry, he was well regarded in many of the right circles. Unfortunately, he suffered a stroke that nearly killed him and resulted in permanent inability to use his right hand. But he fought back, eventually learning to paint left-handed. This needs to be kept in mind when assessing his work.


Catherine, Lady Carnarvon - 1920s
This is the source painting for the book cover image. As usual, images from the Internet (and in print) are inconsistent as to color; I'm guessing that the book cover colors are true. The painting as a whole doesn't impress me (the background that, combined with the dress, yields a huge, nearly uniform, boring mass). What I like very much is the treatment of the face.

Elizabeth Smiley - c. 1930

Katherine Hariot Kinloch - 1939

Valerie Albu - 1950
Painted using his left hand following the 1945 stroke.

John Munro Kerr - 1954

The Field Marshal, Earl Wavell - 1959

Setting aside the post-1945 paintings, I have to say that Elwes' portraits do not impress me. They tend to be too artificial looking with some not very well drawn details. Except for the one on the book cover: love the face.


mike shupp said...

Uhhhhh .... interesting work. As posed, as painted, most of these folk could be presented as .... introductory shots on Masterpiece Theater presentations of their lives? (not necessarily a bad thing --- Elizabeth Smiley and Katherine Kinloch come off quite well).

But that Valerie Albu portrait is striking. She's not terribly pretty, at least as shown. But she has the only face which dominates the background. And she and he were willing to go forth and approve that painting.

Dude, there's backstory here! And I suspect it speaks well of both of them.

sarahwasp said...

Valerie Albu was my mum :)