Roger Fry (British, 1866-1934) Portrait of E.M. Forster 73 x 60 cm. (28 1/4 x 23 5/8 in.) (Painted in 1911)

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Lot 5*
Roger Fry
(British, 1866-1934)
Portrait of E.M. Forster 73 x 60 cm. (28 1/4 x 23 5/8 in.)

Sold for £ 325,062 (US$ 447,014) inc. premium
Roger Fry (British, 1866-1934)
Portrait of E.M. Forster
oil on canvas
73 x 60 cm. (28 1/4 x 23 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1911


  • Provenance
    The Artist
    Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970)
    Florence Barger, thence by family descent
    With Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London, 1984
    Private Collection, U.S.A.

    London, Alpine Club Gallery, Paintings and Drawings by Roger Fry, January 1912, (as A Novelist)
    London, Arts Council, The Arts Council Gallery, Vision and Design: The Life, Work and Influence of Roger Fry, 17 March-16 April 1966,; this exhibition travelled to Nottingham, University Art Gallery, 27 April-22 May, Leeds, City Art Gallery, 28 May-18 June, Newcastle upon Tyne, Laing Art Gallery, 25 June-16 July, Manchester, City Art Gallery, 23 July-13 August 1966
    London, Courtauld Institute Gallery, Portraits by Roger Fry, 18 September-14 October 1976,, pl.3; this exhibition travelled to Sheffield, Mappin Art Gallery, 23 October-21 November 1976
    London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, The Omega Workshops: Alliance and Enmity in English Art 1911-1920, 18 January-6 March 1984,

    Quentin Bell, Bloomsbury, Futura Publications Ltd., London, 1974, pp.48-9 (ill.b&w.)
    S.P. Rosenbaum, The Bloomsbury Group: A Collection of Memoirs and Commentary, Croom Helm, 1975
    Philip Nicholas Furbank, E.M. Forster: A Life, Volume One, The Growth of the Novelist 1879-1914, Secker & Warburg, London, 1977, pp.205-7 (front cover illustration)
    Frances Spalding, Roger Fry, Art and Life, University of California Press, California, 1980, pl.51
    Richard Shone, The Art of Bloomsbury: Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Tate Gallery Publishing Ltd., London, 1999, p.93, fig.80 (ill.b&w.)
    Wendy Moffat, E.M. Forster. A New Life, Bloomsbury, London, 2010, p.106

    The sitter in this arresting portrait needs little introduction. In 1911 Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970) had recently reached a new audience and a breadth of critical acclaim with his fourth novel Howards End, published in 1910. He was not, however, a well-known figure in the London literary world. He lived comfortably with his widowed mother in Weybridge, invariably stayed in a club if he visited London for a night and kept to a relatively small circle of friends. Several of these he had met through the Cambridge University society known as The Apostles. Friends from an earlier generation at King's College included the writer Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson (1862-1932) and Roger Fry (1866-1934). Dickinson and Fry were close friends and both followed with great interest Forster's career, beginning with his first novel Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905). Over the years, Fry seems to have read everything Forster published. There was great praise for A Passage to India (1924) – 'a marvelous texture – really beautiful writing,' he wrote to Virginia Woolf, although he had reservations about the intrusive mysticism towards the end of the novel (as well as in other writings by Fortser). The novel was translated into French by Fry's friend Charles Mauron whom Forster came to know well and whom he appointed as his French translator. (He also translated Woolf's Orlando). And a few months before his death, Fry read Forster's biography of Dickinson:'it's beautifully done, I think', he wrote to Gerald Brenan, 'and it was a desperately difficult thing to do' (implying that the British public were not yet ready for male foot fetishism).

    Very early on, before Fry and Forster came to know one another, Forster admired a series of Adult Education lectures on art that Fry gave in Cambridge, in his pre-Post-Impressionist years. Later, in an early draft of A Room with a View, Forster included a character called Rankin (later dropped from the novel), an art historian attending tea-parties in Florence at which Florentine attributions were a leading topic and 'pictures were snatched from one great name and thrust upon another, or slighted and left as doubtful [. . . ] or utterly damned as the work of a clever forger who flourished in the middle of the nineteenth century at Hamburg'. In her recent book Roger Fry and Italian Art (London 2019), Caroline Elam gives an excellent, detailed account of Fry and Forster and the influence of the former's aesthetics on the latter (although Forster was never entirely converted to Fry's full-on formalism). Fry drew curious endpapers and a non-figurative cover for Forster's book of short stories The Celestial Omnibus, published in the same year as the present portrait was painted.

    Just as Fry was completing the picture (painted in his house at Guildford), Forster wrote to a friend, that he appeared to be 'a bright healthy young man, without one hand, it is true, and very queer legs, perhaps the result of an aeroplane accident, as he seems to have fallen from an immense height on to a sofa' (letter to Florence Barger, 24 December 1911). Actually Forster liked the picture and bought it but, after it was shown in Fry's one-artist exhibition in 1912, he gave it to his great friend Florence Barger and it was not seen again in public for well over fifty years.

    This is an important work in Fry's development as a painter and is certainly among his most accomplished portraits. Forster is depicted as both alert and yet slightly ironic in expression, finding himself plopped down among Post-Impressionist-seeming fabrics. Earlier in the year Fry had been in Turkey with Clive and Vanessa Bell and had sent a mass of textiles, mostly from Brusa, the historic centre for Turkish textile production, back to England. Some may well feature among the variety shown here and would have influenced Fry's own designs; the patterned cushion by Forster's left shoulder pre-figures textiles he designed for the Omega Workshops a year or so later.

    Frances Spalding has rightly drawn attention to the faceting and angularities of Forster's head (which Lytton Strachey called 'triangular'), almost certainly derived from Picasso's 1909 portrait of Clovis Sagot, which Fry had included in his momentous exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists held in London in 1910-11. In the same exhibition was Matisse's 1908 Girl with Green Eyes which also appears to have guided aspects of Fry's work here – the simple frontality of a figure seen against a busy but essentially flat background. The green modeling on Forster's face is further indebted to Matisse's recent portraits of his wife and himself.

    A number of painted and sculpted images of the men and women associated with Bloomsbury have become canonical and are frequently reproduced. Among them are, of course, several works by Grant and Bell (such as portraits of Virginia Woolf of 1911-12); Strachey by Henry Lamb; Maynard and Lydia Keynes by William Roberts. Forster was often photographed but not much painted – two portraits of him by Carrington and Vanessa Bell, and drawings by Grant, William Rothenstein and Paul Cadmus. The present portrait deserves to be better known, commemorating as it does, not only a warm personal friendship but also the association of two highly influential figures from the early twentieth century whose reputations have not dimmed.

    We are grateful to Richard Shone for compiling this catalogue entry.
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