Marguerite Kelsey, a professional artist’s model in the 1920s and 1930s, was renowned for her gracefulness and ability to hold poses for a long time. Her dress was made by the artist’s mother, and the shoes were chosen and purchased by Frampton for this portrait.
The simple, short-sleeved pale tunic dress worn with low-heeled shoes and her straight hair were all essential elements of the fashionable garçonne style created by the couturiers Coco Chanel and Jean Patou from the mid-1920s.
The subject’s pose is deliberately artificial, as is the rendering of the magnolias in the basket and indeed that of all the furnishings. Light was, as for most artists, absolutely crucial to Frampton, and according to Marguerite Kelsey several sittings for this portrait were abandoned when the light was poor.
In reality, what Frampton captures here is a moment of transition between classical elements and modernism and the overall effect, enhanced by the beautifully smooth brushwork, is vaguely surreal.
The model with her quizzical expression, appears almost to be floating on the sofa like a version of Botticelli’s Venus, the sofa substituting for the seashell. The balance provided by the colours of the drapes and the tablecloth make this an utterly satisfying composition.
Worth a trip to Tate Modern just to see this stunning work of art!
Meredith Frampton (1994-1984) was born in St John’s Wood and was the only child of the sculptor George Frampton and his wife, the painter Christabel Cockerell. Educated at Westminster School, Frampton eventually studied art at the Royal Academy Schools. During the First World War, he served in the British Army on the Western Front with a field survey unit and also worked on the interpretation of aerial photographs. After the war he established himself as one of the most highly regarded British painters during the period.