ELIOT, T[HOMAS] S[TEARNS] (1888-1965, American-born poet and literary critic, O.M.) PORTRAIT BY SIR
Lot 49
ELIOT, THOMAS STEARNS, (1888-1965, American-born poet and literary critic, Nobel Prize winner for Literature, O.M.) PORTRAIT BY SIR GERALD KELLY P.R.A., R.H.A. (1879-1972),
Sold for £50,400 (US$ 78,301) inc. premium

Lot Details
ELIOT, THOMAS STEARNS, (1888-1965, American-born poet and literary critic, Nobel Prize winner for Literature, O.M.)
PORTRAIT BY SIR GERALD KELLY P.R.A., R.H.A. (1879-1972),
oil on canvas, three-quarter length, seated in front of solander boxes (one inscribed Chardin) on the shelves in Kelly's studio at 65 (now 117) Gloucester Place, Portman Square, holding a book, traces of guide-line numbering at the edges, the book sketched in, 50 x 36½ in (127 x 92.7 cm).

Footnotes

  • PROVENANCE: Gerald Kelly Studio Sale, Christie's, 8 February 1980 Lot 235.

    EXHIBITED: Cheltenham Literary Festival, Faces and Places, 1982; illustrated on the brochure for 'A Gala Evening of Poetry to celebrate the Centenary of the Birth of T.S. Eliot', 1988.

    REFERENCES: Dr Nuzhat Bukhari, ‘The Distinguished Shaman: T.S. Eliot’s Portraits in Modern Art’, Modernism/Modernity, vol. xi., no 3, September 2004; Derek Hudson, For Love of Painting: The Life of Sir Gerald Kelly, 1975; Christie’s catalogue.

    This remarkable portrait of 1961-62 is one of the most important images of the leading and most widely influential poet of the twentieth century. Perhaps because it bridges the range of oil sketch and finished portrait, it retains a liveliness and authenticity lost in the three more finished known portraits by Kelly of the poet, which tend towards the monumental and stolid. In this portrait Eliot seems, moving from eye to eye, to be alternately expressing mild disapproval and seeking reconciliation. It is of the Poet, not, as the other are, of the Grand Old Man.

    Eliot wrote to Kelly about one of his portraits of him describing it as a 'masterpiece' (‘This is a masterpiece & I shall never have a better portrait’). This is a considerable compliment to Kelly, given, as Dr Bukhari has shown, that Eliot was very attentive to his own portrayal. They had known one another for a number of years before Kelly painted him and were good friends. Eliot purchased one of Kelly’s portraits of him for his wife Valerie.

    The present portrait is one of very few of Eliot painted in oils – there are fourteen in all: four by Kelly including this one, one each by Charlotte Eliot, Feliks Topolski and Emanuel Romano, four by Patrick Heron and three by Wyndham Lewis. Only one other of these fourteen oils remains in private hands and none is currently nor is likely to be available for purchase (information supplied by Nuzhat Bukhari). Only those by Kelly can be described as conventional representations.

    Kenneth Clark wrote of Kelly as a portraitist: 'He had a great gift for summing up the character of his sitters, and painted with scrupulous honesty.’ He was ‘romantically adventurous’ yet ‘formally conventional’. (Derek Hudson, For Love of Painting: The Life of Sir Gerald Kelly, 1975, pp. 43 and 151).

    Kelly said of himself: 'I am a naughty old man, utterly unrepentant in my love of things beautifully done' (Royal Academy Speech, 30 April 1953). While at Cambridge he befriended Aleister Crowley who to Kelly's horror married his sister in 1906. In Paris he met Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, Degas, Sickert and Rodin. Among his close friends were Somerset Maugham, Clive Bell, Arnold Bennett and John Singer Sargent. Maugham used Kelly as the basis for several characters in his novels; Kelly painted numerous portraits of Maugham. He also painted portraits of M.R. James, Harold Macmillan, Malcolm Sargent, Marie Stopes and Vaughan Williams among many others. Between 1939 and 1945 he painted the State Portraits of George VI and Queen Elizabeth. In 1945 he became Honorary Surveyor of the Dulwich Gallery and was elected President of the Royal Academy in 1949; he remained President until 1955.

    There is no portrait of T.S. Eliot by Gerald Kelly in the National Portrait Gallery.
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