From 29 June to 27 July 2018

Elegance, the quality of being graceful and stylish in appearance or manner, is a complex and subjective phenomenon. How an artist captures and relays this quality in a painting or sculpture can be incredibly varied, and it is the interest of this exhibition to look at the different ways this can be achieved through different mediums and styles. Costume is obviously central to how we read a portrait. Going beyond mere decorative function, the clothing chosen by an artist (or indeed the sitter) can mediate or even dictate our experience of looking at a work of art. Often it is our ‘way-in’; in an instant we unconsciously qualify what we are looking at. We date it, analyse and absorb it in order to deduce the personality, character, tone, function or emotional state. It can determine whether we actually even like a painting or sculpture of a person. Moreover, how a sitter or subject wears their chosen or given clothing can define our reception of the work of art as being elegant or something else. It is not merely the wrapping of them in garments or manipulating of their hair, but how we sense the person inside them feels; posture, demeanour and confidence are crucial. Some people simply are elegant, others feel elegant but are not obviously so. Sometimes in deliberately projecting elegance this effect is nullified; correspondingly grace or stylishness can be unknowingly but happily achieved. Beyond simple technical prowess, it is the job of an artist to capture the refinement of their sitter’s character. This exhibition looks at the multifarious ways they can create this sense of ‘elegance’ through modelling gowns in clay, casting figures in bronze, carving translucent drapes, freely and quickly capturing the flow of a dress in oil paint or delicately recording sartorial detail in pen or watercolour brush. ____________________________________________________________________________________ HIGHLIGHTS: An exquisite and unusual neoclassical high-relief Portrait of a young lady dating from 1775 is one of the earliest works in the show. The relief, by Francois-Marie Poncet, is sensitively and delicately modelled. With finely portrayed features the sitter, although unknown, is recomplete with a fantastical coiffure. Equally exuberantly styled hair is depicted in Sir Francis Chantrey’s stunningly real and faithful portrait of Lady Gertrude Sloane-Stanley, who looks at the viewer as though alive. Whilst no natural beauty, the daughter of the Earl of Carlyle and cousin of Lord Byron is conveyed with staggering presence and charm by the greatest portraitist of his day. Sir William Nicholson’s The Yellow Jersey, recently rediscovered after many years, is a thoughtful soliloquy by the great twentieth-century portraitist. Here the painter playfully juxtaposes the childish nature of his young sitter, the actress Felicity Tree, and a more self-aware teenager on the verge of adulthood. Doris Zinkeisen, synonymous with the London art scene of the 1920s, was well known for her chic and glamourous portrayals of society figures. Using her experience as a stage and costume designer she stylishly captured sitters such as Miss Sanders Watney. Lady Louis Sturt (1900-1937) is eloquently captured by Ambrose McEvoy. Sturt an aristocratic British “flapper” and silent movie star lived a colourful life on the London party scene. Similarly, but earlier, Jean-Baptist Carpeaux’s L’Eté depicts the celebrated Roman beauty Barbara Pasquarelli (1842-1861), whom Carpeaux had met in Rome in 1856 and fallen in love with, here depicted as an allegory of Summer. Finally, Sir Frank Dicksee’s sensational Portrait of Lady Hillingdon shows how an artist sensitive to the sitter and the fashion of the period can, through their own style, imbue a profound sense of elegance. Dicksee’s portrayal shows his acute sensibility to light and texture, and the expertly rendered flowers painted on the dress are a wonder to behold. Other artists featured in the exhibition are: Gustav Klimt, Vilhelm Hammershoi, Clodion, Sir James Jebusa Shannon, Gerald Leslie Brockhurst, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and William Rothenstein.

selected works