The Hon. Ruth Cable, Lady Benthall
Oil on canvas: 35.7(h) x 30.2(w) in /
90.8(h) x 76.8(w) cm
Signed lower left with initials: GP
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GLYN PHILPOT RA
1884 – London – 1937
The Hon. Ruth Cable, Lady Benthall (1898-1949)
Signed with initials lower left: GP
Oil on canvas: 35¾ x 30¼ in / 90.8 x 76.8 cm
Frame size: 45 × 40 in / 114.3 × 101.6 cm
In its original carved and gilded Chippendale style pierced frame
Painted circa 1935–37
Commissioned by Lady Benthall, Lindridge, Bishopsteighton, Devon, then by descent
Christie’s, London, 20th June 1996, lot 80
Private collection, acquired from the above
Glyn Philpot’s career, in accord with demand for his portraits, continued ‘on the crest of a wave’ through the 1920s. Elected the youngest member of the Royal Academy, Philpot achieved unanimous critical acclaim for his solo exhibition at the Grosvenor Galleries in 1923 and a host of Official honours followed, including a commissioned portrait of Prime Minster Stanley Baldwin in 1926, and his appointment as a Tate Gallery Trustee in 1927. In a dramatic turn of events, Philpot’s paintings at the Royal Academy of 1932 caused public dismay, as R H Wilenski recounted to the artist in The Studio, ‘I understand from the papers that you have “gone modern.”’ This radical stylistic development in palette and technique, which Wilenski described as ‘a kind of rejection of the concern with practical ends for concern with the instincts and the spirit’, was most likely influenced by Philpot’s serving with Matisse on the Jury of the Carnegie International Exhibition of 1930, which awarded the Gold Medal to Picasso. Philpot also exhibited alongside some of the most avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century at the Venice Biennale that summer, which included retrospectives of Modigliani and Van Dongen as well as works by Dix, Grosz, Beckmann, Kandinsky and Klee. Restless and in need of a change of scene, Philpot took a studio in Paris and spent almost a year experimenting with a new manner; he also visited Berlin. Expected to expound on his courageous change of direction, Philpot wrote in Apollo in 1933:
‘This change had arisen from the conviction that new modes of expression are continually necessary if the artist is to add to the sum of beauty in the world, and not merely echo, or to express admiration for, some beauty already crystallised in a recognised form…In my own case the change has been towards a simplification of technique, a sacrifice of “expected” qualities of surface in order to obtain more rapidity and flexibility of handling and a greater force of accent. With this has gone a simplification of form, dispensing with exactitudes of drawing to obtain greater emotional weight in line. Add to this a disregard for logical chiaroscuro, when this was found to hamper the sharper detachment of one plane from another, and this is all. All these are
technical changes, and all have been adopted instinctively in the search for new forms of beauty. In the aim of the artist there has been no change.’
The price of Philpot’s artistic integrity and creative freedom was considerable. Portrait commissions became scarce and his large Landsdowne House studio was exchanged for Marlborough Gate House, Lancaster Gate, his country house, Baynards Manor, and its contents were sold, as well as the Paris studio. From 1933 however, Philpot re-established himself with loyal and more progressive patrons as a society portrait painter in a modern idiom. The family of Lady Benthall represented both, having commissioned portraits in the artist’s early and late manner.
Ruth McCarthy Cable (1898–1949), was the younger daughter of Sir Ernest (later Lord) Cable and Lilian Sarah, the daughter of Weston Joseph Sparkes of Dawlish, and wife of Edward Charles Benthall, whom she married in 1918. Their son, Michael Benthall CBE (1919–1974), became a celebrated theatrical producer and director. Lady Benthall spent the majority of her life in Calcutta where her father was born and her husband, knighted in 1933, continued Cable’s industrial concerns as a partner in Bird & Co. The infrequency of her residence in England led Robin Gibson to suggest that the dated portrait of Ruth at Benthall Hall, Shropshire (see fig.1) was ‘probably painted on a fleeting visit home before Lady Benthall finally returned to England in 1937.’ Philpot’s sister, Daisy, noted that the portrait, painted against the background of a Spanish screen, was started at Lord Cable’s Devonshire home, Lindridge, before being completed at Philpot’s Lancaster Gate studio.
Red chalk studies exploring Lady Benthall’s profile at the Courtauld Institute of Art relate to both seated portraits and confirm Philpot’s statement that his aim remained the same, as did his
sensitive draughtsmanship, attention to detail and refined psychological expression. The present painting, a more confident and glamourous society portrait, maintains, as Gibson suggests, the
same ‘…beauty of line, colour and texture which characterise the best of his early work.’
Fig. 1 Glyn Philpot, The Hon. Ruth Cable, Fig. 2 Glyn Philpot, Mrs Gerard
Lady Benthall (1898 – 1949), 1935. Simpson, 1937. Tate, London.
Benthall Hall, National Trust.
Compared to paintings which displayed the female body in barely-there evening dress, here we see a more sophisticated and complex image, in which the subtle modernist touches regarding dress and appearance are cleverly incorporated into a flattering likeness, an obvious aspect of the traditional portrait format. Slightly distraite (she doesn’t engage the spectator’s eye), Lady Benthall is dressed in a red silk evening dress over which is worn a wrap-over velvet jacket, the texture and colours beautifully rendered; the artist may have added the complementary turquoise silk ribbon bow in her hair. Siegfried Sassoon remarked that Philpot ‘delighted…in the richness and elegance of things contrived by human handiwork…shown in his painting of silks, velvets and brocades…a sensuous joy in surface qualities and harmonious arrangements of colour.’ Benthall’s jacket has the wide, puffed shoulder-line (possibly inspired by the 1890s leg-of-mutton sleeves), which had been popularized by the designer Elsa Schiaparelli in 1933, and was to dominate women’s fashions up to and during the Second World War. A similar style (separates were very fashionable in the 1930s) but with a long roll collar, can also be seen in the silvery grey satin jacket worn by Mrs Gerard Simpson, in Philpot’s last portrait (fig. 2). Benthall’s jewellery is very up-to-date for a formal event such as a cocktail party; in fact she wears a large turquoise cocktail ring on her right hand, matching the bracelet on her arm. In the 1930s it was fashionable to wear paired jewels, such as two brooches; two matching bracelets were often worn, like the two flexible ruby and platinum bracelets we see here. On her right wrist
is a slim diamond bracelet from which hangs a matching cross, possibly from Cartier; Edward VII bought one for Wallis Simpson in March 1936.
 Robin Gibson, Glyn Philpot 1884–1937: Edwardian Aesthete to Thirties Modernist, exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery, London, 1985, p.23.
 ‘Glyn Philpot RA on his “new manner” a conversation with R. H. Wilenski’, The Studio, vol.104, 1932, p.282.
 Glyn Philpot RA, ‘The making of a picture”, Apollo, vol. 17, February–June 1933, p.287.
 Philpot was first commissioned to paint the sitter’s father, Sir Ernest (later Lord) Cable (location unknown) and husband, Edward Charles Benthall (Benthall Hall, NT), both in 1925.
 In 1951, Benthall was asked by Laurence Olivier to direct him and his wife, Vivien Leigh, in Antony and Cleopatra and Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra in London. Two years later he was appointed artistic director of the Old Vic and embarked on an ambitious ‘five-year plan’ to stage all thirty-six plays in the Shakespeare first folio, launching the careers of several young performers, notably Richard Burton and Judi Dench. See Michael Patterson, ‘Benthall, Michael Pickersgill (1919–1974)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008.
 Bequeathed to the National Trust by Michael Benthall in 1974, on loan to Benthall Hall prior to that in the 1960s. Benthall Hall was gifted to the National Trust in 1958 by Mrs J Floyer Benthall and Sir Edward Benthall of Lindridge, Devon. The Times, 30th October 1958, p.12.
 Robin Gibson, op.cit., p.87.
 Tate Gallery Archives (uncatalogued collections) [TGA9714]. Lindridge, a country house near Bishopsteignton, Devon (sadly destroyed in 1963; the gardens have been restored and are Grade II listed), which Lord Cable rented and improved prior to its purchase in 1920, was inherited by Lady Benthall upon his death in 1927. Christopher
Hussey, ‘Country Homes, Gardens Old & New: Lindridge, Devon. The Seat of Sir Edward and the Hon. Lady Benthall’, Country Life, 8th October 1938, vol.84, no.2177, pp.356–360 and 15th October 1938, vol.84, no.2178, pp.378–382.
 Robin Gibson, op. cit., p.35.
 Two studies for the portrait head ( Courtauld Gallery) lack such a bow but include plain pearl earrings, which the sitter might have been wearing but which the artist omitted.
 Quoted in Robin Gibson, Glyn Philpot 1884–1937. Edwardian Aesthete to Thirties Modernist, London, 1984, p.17.
 Suzy Menkes, The Windsor Style, London, 1987, p.184; thanks to Diana Scarisbrick for bringing this to my attention.