George Henry

The Mirror

Oil on canvas: 80(h) x 50(w) in /

203.2(h) x 127(w) cm

Signed lower right: GEORGE HENRY; signed and inscribed on a label attached to the stretcher

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BS 272

 

GEORGE HENRY RA RSA

Ayrshire 1858 – 1943 London

 

The Mirror

 

Signed lower right: George Henry; signed and inscribed on a label attached to the stretcher: George Henry /26 Glebe Place, Chelsea, London , SW / The Mirror

Oil on canvas: 80 x 50 in / 203.2 x 127 cm

Frame size: 88 × 58 in / 223.5 × 147.3 cm

In its original eighteenth century style gilded composition, corners and centres frame

 

Painted in 1907

 

Provenance:

Private collection, Canada

 

Exhibited:

London, Royal Academy of Arts, Summer Exhibition, 1907, no.530

 

Literature:

The New Associate of the Royal Academy: A Chat with Mr George Henry’, Black & White, 9th February 1907, p.198

‘The Royal Academy’, The Art Journal, 1907, p. 205 (illus full page, 204)

‘The Royal Academy Exhibition’, The Scotsman, 4th May 1907, p.8

‘An Alluring Portrait’, The Daily News, 4th May 1907, p.7

‘The Royal Academy–First Notice’, Pall Mall Gazette, 4th May 1907, p.2

‘The Royal Academy–Second Notice’, The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Advertiser, 14th May 1907, p.5

‘The Royal Academy Exhibition, 1907’, The Studio, June 1907, p.30

‘London Letter’, American Art News, 15th June 1907, p.5 (illus. front page)

‘The Royal Academy Exhibition, 1907’, The Studio, June 1907, p.30

 

 

By 1905, when George Henry established his new studio at 26 Glebe Place in Chelsea, most of his Glasgow School contemporaries had moved south. In his case the move was part of a very conscious repositioning, for in the previous year he had resigned from the International Society and started to submit his work to the Royal Academy. A popular figure nominated by Reginald Frampton and George Clausen, he confidently secured a majority in the Royal Academy elections in January 1907 and as a new Associate he was assured of press notices, private view

and other social function invitations, that would inevitably lead to portrait commissions.[1] His rise had been swift and it signalled the first of a number of attempts on the Academy’s part to

embrace new tendencies in painting. Yet Henry’s radical youth as one of the leading ‘Glasgow Boys’ was not totally abandoned and as one reviewer noted, he was still ‘experimenting with schemes of grey, and in one of his canvases, which he calls ‘The Mirror’ he has produced a beautiful work.’[2]

 

This should be taken to mean that, while in his male portraits Henry was a sympathetic observer of facts, in representing women, more aesthetic considerations were to the fore. Harmony of colour and form partly derived from Whistler, was a primary motivation, and the identity of a sitter took second place in such works. Indeed, in many instances the artist’s wife stood for these

‘arrangements’. Like Lavery and others, he adopted the practice of planning a picture on a small scale, before embarking on a large canvas. In the present instance the pose and top lighting are

developed from a small version entitled, In the Gallery, although in the full-scale Academy picture, the background is significantly altered with an elegant oval mirror and side table replacing the

picture (fig. 1).

 

Of greater significance is the fact that the artist has opted for a subtler relationship between the colour of the wall and that of the dress. Such carefully observed variations of tone formed the basis of his work, as he told an interviewer in February 1907. Following his trip to Japan in 1893, he had, he explained, conquered ‘vivid contrasts’ of colour. Now, pointing to the present work, he had set himself ‘problems of lighting – white light through a silk curtain … strong direct light falling from above and reflected light on the white silk dress and the face’.[3] These were the supreme challenges that he faced in The Mirror. They were ones that presented themselves to the Dutch masters and they remained to be resolved as, in passing, a young model catches a glimpse of her face in a mirror. As Percy Bate observed, ‘Spontaneity is to him one of the great things … and while he does not himself attempt that slickness and sloppiness of handling that is just now fashionable, his technique is free and vigorous – altogether assured and masterly … if he consistently follows any painter of bygone days, Raeburn is his leader.’[4]

 

However it was The Art Journal that best summed up the strengths of the new addition to the Academy’s ranks in 1907 by referring to The Mirror as a combination of ‘graceful pose and

nicely observed effects of light’. ‘Such studies’, it continued, ‘are elusive in their suggestion, abstractions in which the mind may wander at its pleasure, and, because they are never definite, never tiresome’.[5]

 

Kenneth McConkey

 

 

 

            

Fig. 1 George Henry, In         Fig. 2 George Henry, The

the Gallery, c.1907. Private       Milliner’s Window, c.1894.

collection.                              Private collection.

 

 

As with Burns’s The Window Seat we see a similar sense of refinement derived from a study of Japanese art (Henry visited Japan 1893–4) in the small gilt vase of daffodils, the oriental bowl, and the creamy white kid gloves, which form a still life on an elegant Hepplewhite table under the oval mirror. The plain wall foregrounds a woman in an elegant dress of pearly grey silk decorated with blonde (silk) lace, the light falling on her right shoulder, the sleeve (and its

‘epaulette’); she perfectly demonstrates the necessary art of holding up the trailing skirt with this hand in which is clasped a small black fan. Henry’s interest in women’s fashion is evident, and particularly perhaps – like Degas – in millinery (see fig. 2). Witness the confident strokes of paint

in depicting the pale hat with white pleated silk and ostrich feathers, placed with the fashionable forward tilt on the head, and similar to the straw hat with white ostrich plumes seen in fig. 3. The whole costume is a Whistlerian symphony in grey, cream and white. The modest jewellery comprising a diamond brooch (on her breast beneath the blue silk choker round her neck), diamond rings, pearl earrings, and a slim gold bangle, complement the dress to perfection. Compared to the ostentatious grandeur of the dress worn by Fildes’s Mrs Lockett Agnew, with regard to Henry’s model we are aware of a ‘subtle and indefinable air of good taste’, and – as

the author of The Cult of Chiffon has it, a knowledge that underneath the understated dress is undoubtedly faintly perfumed ‘lingerie de luxe’ of silk and lace.[6]

 

Aileen Ribeiro

 

 

 

 

Fig. 3 Woman’s hat of blonde straw, lined with cream silk and trimmed with white ostrich feathers, c.1908–12. Chertsey Museum.

 

 

 

GEORGE HENRY

Ayrshire 1858 – 1943 London

 

One of the principle members of the group of artists known as ‘The Glasgow Boys’, little is known about George Henry’s early life. He attended the Glasgow School of Art in 1882 where he formed strong links with Sir James Guthrie, Joseph Crawhall and Arthur Melville, all of who were to have a strong influence on the early development of his artistic style. By 1885, Henry had forged a close friendship with Edward Atkinson Hornel with whom he was to paint two works, The Druids and The Star of the East, which were both well received by critics. Henry frequently travelled to London throughout his life and received many portrait commissions which formed an important part of his oeuvre.

 

Whistler had been an important catalyst between the Glasgow Boys and Japan, and Japanese artifacts could be readily found in Glasgow during this period. The publication, The  Bailie, commented on 22nd February 1893 – ‘Messrs Henry and Hornel have mastered a technique not dissimilar in character from that favoured in the land of the cherry-blossom – let us call it Hokusai modified by Monticelli…’ In 1893, Hornel and Henry travelled to Japan where they stayed for eighteen months, unfortunately many of the works Henry produced on this trip were damaged or destroyed and the whole experience was a great disappointment, as a result he refused to give any lectures on his return and this marked a turning point in his career.

 

George Henry’s earlier works, such as A Galloway Landscape (1889) and Barr, Aryshire (1891), are considered to be amongst some of the most modern works produced by any Scottish artist at the end of the nineteenth century, however, as his paintings evolved he developed a much greater decorative emphasis and the influence of Whistler and his ‘nocturnes’ remained a distinctive characteristic of his work throughout his career.

 

[1] Reported in The Art Journal, 1904, p.103 and 1907, p.96.

[2] ‘The Royal Academy Exhibition’, The Scotsman, 4th May 1907, p.8. Another, ‘The Royal Academy – First Notice’, Pall Mall Gazette, 4th May 1907, p.2, referred to the present picture as ‘a work of art, rather than a portrait’.

[3] ‘The New Associate of the Royal Academy: A Chat with Mr George Henry’, Black and White, 9th February 1907, p.198.

[4] Percy Bate, ‘The Work of George Henry RSA: A Review and an Appreciation’, The Studio, vol.xxxi, February 1904, p.12.

[5] ‘The Royal Academy’, The Art Journal, 1907, p.205.

[6] Mrs Eric Pritchard, The Cult of Chiffon, London, 1902, p.78 and p.21.

Modern BritishGeorge Henry