Sir George Clausen, RA, RWS (British, 1852-1944) Head of a Young Woman (Dolly Henry)

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Lot 81
Sir George Clausen, RA, RWS
(British, 1852-1944)
Head of a Young Woman (Dolly Henry)

Sold for £ 10,062 (US$ 13,218) inc. premium
Sir George Clausen, RA, RWS (British, 1852-1944)
Head of a Young Woman (Dolly Henry)
signed 'G.CLAUSEN' (lower right)
oil on canvas
40.7 x 31cm (16 x 12 3/16in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    John Heaton Esq. Collection, 1913.
    Lord Hanson Collection.

    In October 1914 the tragic news that Dolly Henry had been shot by her lover, the artist John Currie, spread swiftly through the art world. A popular Irish model, renowned for her rich auburn hair, Henry's relationship with Currie was known to be tempestuous, and although highly regarded, he frequently talked of suicide. Having murdered Henry in her rooms in Chelsea, he took his own life.1 Shocked by the news, Clausen, with good memories of Dolly, and the days when the present portrait was painted, joined other artists for whom she had worked in subscribing to her funeral costs.2

    Portraits and figure-pieces featuring the object of Currie's infatuation tend to accentuate her prominent cheek bones and adopt the Italianate 'Primitivism' that was a consistent feature of the work of Slade students of his day - and is seen in Head of a Girl, and in Dolly Henry on Hampstead Heath (sold Bonhams, 10 July 2018, fig 1). Living nearby at the time she first sat for Clausen in May 1912, she was also working for other artists such as William Strang, and the sculptors, George Frampton and Havard Thomas, as well as Currie.

    Clausen's approach was more naturalistic than Currie's, and in the present portrait he strips his model of the art fashions of the moment. The artist, having recently visited Sicily and Greece on Art Workers' Guild holidays, was developing his own individual approach to the classical ideal – best expressed in Primavera 1914 (private collection), for which Henry initially modelled. When she and Currie took off to live in Brittany for a brief period, this project was completed with Lilian Ryan, later Lady Kelly.3 In the meantime, as the Breton adventure ended in failure, Henry hoped to bury herself in Cornwall and escape Currie's attentions. There she bobbed her hair, and sat for Harold and Laura Knight, memorably posing for the latter's Marshmallows, 1914 (private collection), before fleeing again to Chelsea.

    The present portrait, the first documented study by Clausen, apart from a drawing in Hobourne Museum, Bath, comes from happier times. It pre-dates A Girl in Black (fig 2), shown at the Royal Academy in May 1913. Obvious comparison between these and the work of contemporaries reveals Clausen's sense of restraint. The allure that characterises Currie's and Knight's representations is absent, and what we are given is a characterisation that is penetratingly direct. By all the canons of female beauty in 1913, Henry scores highly, but that is not the point – as the artist's careful modelling conveys.

    Such qualities evidently appealed to the Leeds collector, John Heaton, when he was introduced to Clausen by the sculptor, Albert Toft, on 31 January 1913 and promptly purchased the study. Heaton would go on to acquire other pictures from the artist and in 1914, he commissioned Clausen's portrait of his wife.4 It may be no coincidence that A Girl in Black, when shown at the Royal Academy in 1913, was sold to Sam Wilson, also a Leeds collector, alerted to the refined qualities in Clausen's work.

    We are grateful to Professor Kenneth McConkey for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.

    1 The full story is recounted in John Currie, Paintings and Drawings, 1905-14, 1980, City Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, exhibition catalogue by Sarah Griffiths.
    2 Letter to Havard Thomas dated 7 December 1914; see also Kenneth McConkey, George Clausen and the Picture of English Rural Life, Edinburgh, Atelier Books, 2012, p. 162.
    3 McConkey, 2012, pp. 162-5.
    4 Sold Sotheby's, 24 March 1994; McConkey 2012, p. 187.
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