Et in Arcadia ego
Modern British artists return to the fore and the loss of potential to war is keenly felt
ALthough Rex Whistler (1905–44) was not the original for Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, he may have contributed something to Evelyn Waugh’s creation. Certainly, his experience as a middleclass artist enthralled by the aristocratic Paget family parallels the story of Ryder and the Flytes. there was no equivalent for Sebastian Flyte, but Whistler seems to have fallen for the whole family when in 1936 and 1937 he was painting the Kingdom by the Sea mural at the Marquess of Anglesey’s seat, Plas Newydd, and as with Ryder and Julia Flyte (eventually), he was particularly taken by the elder daughter, Lady Caroline Paget.
he painted and drew her many times, giving her an elfin attraction, and they exchanged passionate letters, although the passion was stronger on his part than hers and the one nude study does not convince as a painting from life. Current opinion holds that the affair was unconsummated, but Lady Caroline told her son, Charles Duff, that, ‘after she last saw him, she had decided that she was going to tell him, next time he came home on leave, that she would marry him’. Whistler, however, was killed on his first day in action as a tank commander in Normandy.
Whistler was a fine, witty muralist and illustrator, but he was much more than a whimsical jester and his wartime portraits grew darker and stronger, culminating in the moving selfportrait in uniform. It would be interesting to know how he would have progressed after the war—and how the marriage might have turned out.
Whistler seems to be coming back into fashion; his gaiety is much needed now. At Sotheby’s last month, a 16in by 18in portrait of Lady Caroline (Fig 4) sold for a twice-estimate £68,750 and another, of her brother henry, later 7th Marquess, estimated to £18,000, reached £47,500.
however a postwar Whistler might have developed, he could never have gone in the direction of Frank Auerbach, whose obsessively worked canvases take on the character of carved bas-reliefs. to a degree, they do share one thing, however. Auerbach, born in 1931 and currently lauded as the pre-eminent British painter, is also obsessive about his models, but in a very different manner. As the late Juliet Yardley Mills, who sat for him week by week from 1956 to 1997 recalled after her retirement: ‘We had a wonderful relationship because I thought the world of him and he was very fond of me. there was no sort of romance but we were very close. Real friends. Sundays now I’m always miserable.’ here, the 20in by 22in Head of Jym III (Fig 3), painted in 1981, sold for a low-estimate £440,750. Another Modern British figure whose work is enjoying its moment is the sculptor Reg Butler (1913–81) and, on the evidence of this Sotheby sale, collectors might be wise to look out for his small bronze figures. Number six from an edition of nine of his Musée Imaginaire—39 figures arranged on a set of shelves (Fig 1)—sold for a twice-estimate £100,000. It was conceived in the 1960s, when Butler was exhibited alongside giacometti and, although
Butler did not market these figures individually, he made others. There were several in this sale, with the cheapest being the 5¼inhigh Fetish at £2,500 (Fig 2).
Ancient sculpture was also in demand at Sotheby’s, notably a well-preserved 22¼in-high marble bust of a mid-2nd-century lightly bearded Roman man
(Fig 5), who had done at least some military service, as indicated by his paludamentum, or cape. This was carved from a single piece of marble. It went well over estimate to take £728,750, paid by the London dealer Daniel Katz.
Elsewhere, a May sporting sale at Bonhams, Edinburgh, saw £25,000 paid for a threefold screen framing portraits of the champion pointers, Hamlet (1868), Bang (1876) and Drake (1875), by George Earl (Fig 7). There was also an elegant oak ‘Sportsman’s’ rod and gun cabinet by Hardy, which sold for £1,875 (Fig 8).
The Milan BBPR architectural and design practice was formed in 1932, taking its name from the partners’ initials: Banfi, Barbiano di Belgiojoso, Peressutti and Rogers. After a brief flirtation with the Fascists, they turned to the resistance—lodovico Barbiano di Belgiojoso and Gianluigi Banfi were impris-
oned in Mauthausen, where the former died in 1944, adding poignancy to his partners’ postwar Monument to the Victims of Nazi Concentration Camps
in Milan’s National Cemetery.
They were also responsible for the striking 1954 Torre Velasca in the city, which blends Modernism with medieval castle design. A design sale at PIASA in Paris saw an example of their elegant and purely Modernist 1962 plafonnier-applique, or ceiling lights design, sell for €54,600 (Fig 6 ).
Next week Gods and gadgets
Fig 1: Musée Imaginaire by Reg Butler. £100,000
Fig 4: Lady Caroline Paget by Whistler. £68,750
Fig 3: Head of Jym III by Auerbach. £440,750
Fig 2: Butler’s Fetish. £2,500
Fig 6 right: BBPR plafonnierapplique. €54,600. Fig 7 below left: Three-fold screen with champion pointers. £25,000. Fig 8 below right: Hardy rod and gun cabinet. £1,875
Fig 5: Bust of mid-2nd-century Roman man. £728,750