Dewitt McClellan Lockman

The Green Dress

Oil on canvas: 50(h) x 40(w) in /

127(h) x 101.6(w) cm

Signed and dated lower right:DeWitt M. Lockman NA / June 1935

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BT 104

 

DEWITT MCCLELLAN LOCKMAN

 1870 – 1957

 

The Green Dress

 

Signed and dated lower right: Dewitt M. Lockman NA /June 1935

Oil on canvas: 50 x 40 in / 127 x 101.6 cm

Frame size: 57 ½ × 47 5/8 in / 146 × 121 cm

 

Provenance:

Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine, USA, gifted by the artist in 1950

 

Exhibited:

New York, American Fine Arts Building, 23rd Annual Exhibition of the Allied Artists of America, 9th – 31st May 1936, no.46, as Introspection

 

 

‘How could he forget that green dress, how it clung to the curve of her hips…and showed the beauty of her shoulders. Whiter than the mist.’ Ian McEwan, Atonement, London, 2001, p.264

 

The powerful image of a green dress is woven into the fabric of Atonement’s reflexive narrative, giving the leading female character the mental and physical confidence for her first sexual encounter and her lover the enduring memory of her beauty. Opening on the hottest day of 1935, the historical novel’s atmosphere of unease, as well as the unpredictability of events

and the malleability of memory and imagination, is accentuated by the arresting gown. Similarly set in the summer of 1935, DeWitt Lockman’s stunning green dress also simmers with psychological tension beneath the beautifully painted surface. Alone with her thoughts, perhaps escaping the hot summer evening, Lockman’s frequent and favourite model Connie (or Corinne) Easton[1] wears a long satin evening dress, fitted around the torso and pooling about her waist, its lustrous fabric depicted falling from the knee in broad, luminous strokes. Her smooth, iridescent skin is unadorned, except by the reflected colours of her clothing; a green tint to the underside of her arms and beautifully painted hands; a golden sheen to her flawless back, reflected from the bright, silk lining of her equally dramatic coat. A powerful, super-natural green, as unnerving as it is alluring, conjures together with the slightly jarring combination of pale purple, acid-yellow and petrol blue of her surroundings, a thrilling sense of trepidation. Like the unforgettable figure-hugging, backless green evening dress worn by Cecilia Tallis in Atonement, [2] it seems to suggest the power of clothing to presage fate as well as the sitter’s state of mind. Though the dress may have been Connie’s ‘latest and best piece’, it fails to give her the confidence or security Cecilia feels when putting on her green dress: ‘she felt sleekly impregnable, slippery and secure;

it was a mermaid who rose to meet her in her own full-length mirror.’[3] Painted during the charged, unsettling atmosphere of the depression era between the First and Second World Wars,

Connie’s somewhat angular pose and contemplative expression express a tension and psychological drama beyond the beguiling surface. A near full-length seated portrait, Lockman positions Connie facing into the painting, revealing her back, but also recalling the original title, as she turns her head over her left shoulder in an elegant if self-conscious pose. Originally exhibited as Introspection, the painting won the Medal of Honor at the twenty-third annual Allied Artists of America exhibition in New York in 1936.

 

Three years earlier in celebration of the 129th anniversary of its founding, the New York Historical Society presented the artist with another gold medal ‘for painting a series of distinguished Americans for the society.’[4] The De Witt M Lockman Gallery of Contemporary Portraits, ‘a pictorial record of men and women who have done things worth while in this day and generation’[5] was first illustrated in the Society’s bulletin in the summer of 1932 and secured the artist’s reputation as ‘one of America’s foremost portrait painters’.[6] Alexander Wall’s  explanation of their choice of artist, further illuminates the success of the present work and its compelling blend of traditional realism with non-naturalistic colour: ‘It is most fortunate that this portrayal of men of to-day should come from the brush of an artist who is himself so distinctly up to date. Mr Lockman has developed a technique of combining an almost classical fidelity to life with a certain modernistic vibrancy of colour, establishing a harmonious medium between the old and new standards of portraiture, ever presenting his subjects broadly and in pleasing tonalities.’[7] Besides beautiful women, Lockman painted many notables of his day, several on commission from the New-York Historical Society, including the Hon. Calvin Coolidge and an unfinished portrait of then-Governor Roosevelt begun in March 1930.[8] As Lockman focussed more exclusively on portraiture at this time, Geoffrey Fleming writes, he became ‘so well regarded and in demand that in the middle of the Depression (1930s) he was commanding $3,000 per oil portrait.’[9]

 

Though a Brooklyn native with a studio at 222 West 59th Street, it is possible that Introspection was painted at the Lockman family estate in Windham, Connecticut, where he was part of

the social and artistic community,[10] and a descendent of one of the oldest families to settle there. DeWitt was a child prodigy, painting from the age of four and was the youngest artist ever to exhibit at the National Academy of Design in 1880, aged ten. Largely self-taught, he briefly studied with James H Beard at the National Academy in the early 1890s (a portrait of the artist as a child dated 1879 by Beard is in the New-York Historical Society Museum), Nelson N Bickford and William Sartin, before studying in Paris between 1891–92 and Holland in 1901–02. Once established, Lockman maintained active associations with various art organisations, holding many distinguished posts in the art world: he rose from Associate Member of the National Academy of Design in 1917 to its President in 1949–1950.[11] He was also President of the National Association of Portrait Painters from 1925 until his death, and President of the Allied Artists of America from 1945–56. A trustee and fellow in perpetuity of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as the New-York Historical Society from 1929–1957, Lockman is described by them as ‘one of the last of the portrait painters in “the grand manner”, his work being overshadowed to a large extent by the onrush of abstract and non-objective art of the first half of the 20th century’.[12]

 

Fig. 1 Tamara de Lempicka, Jeune fille en

vert, 1927–30. Centre Pompidou, Paris.

 

 

Compared to Tamara de Lempicka’s Jeune fille en vert where the woman’s body is more sexually alluring than if she were naked, and which could be an illustration to Dorothy Parker’s poem The Satin Dress (1926) – ‘Satin’s for the free!….Satin’s for the bold!’, Longman’s sitter appears somewhat ill-at-ease in her green satin dress, sitting on the acid- yellow silk lining of the dark velvet evening coat draped over the chair. Her casual, lightly waved hairstyle kept in place by a slender tortoiseshell band, and a face largely unenhanced by make-up (the cheeks seem naturally red) apart from the red lips, de rigueur for all women by this time – all seems at odds with the form-fitting evening gown, revealing the back as the new erogenous zone. Fashion journals

urged women to take as much care with the appearance of the back (‘Is your back-line youthful enough for the present mode in frocks?’) as they did with the face. Kitty Shannon noted: ‘this is the time when the back is exposed to the waist and very tight round the bottom, in fact this is when the back comes into its own.’[13] As evening dress in particular left very little to the imagination with regard to the shape of the body, underwear had to be completely unobtrusive,

with none of the slight protuberances created by the boned corset. In 1930 Dunlop developed rubberized thread for the new roll-on girdle which gave a smooth unbroken line to the body, creating a perfect svelte figure.

 

Aileen Ribeiro

[1] Suggested by Geoffrey K Fleming, Director of the Huntington Museum of Art, West Virginia 31.5.17. We are very grateful to Mr Fleming, who owns the archive on DeWitt McClellan Lockman, for his advice and assistance.

[2] The green dress in Joe Wright’s film version of Atonement (2007) was voted the best film costume of all time in a poll commissioned by Sky Movies and In Style in 2008.

[3] Atonement, op.cit., pp.91–92.

[4] ‘Notes and Comments of the New York State Historical Association’, New York History, vol.15, no.1, January 1934, p.99.

[5] Alexander J. Wall, ‘The ‘De Witt M. Lockman Gallery of Contemporary Portraits’, The New-York Historical Society Quarterly Bulletin, July 1932, vol.XVI, no.2, p.35.

[6] Exhibition of Portraits by Dewitt McClellan Lockman, NA, The Buck Hill Art Association.

[7] Alexander J Wall, op. cit.,. After his death, the Society held a memorial exhibition in his honour.

[8] David Messchutt, ‘Portraits of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’, The American Art Journal, vol.18, no.4, Autumn 1986, pp.8–9.

[9] A short biography of DeWitt M Lockman, NA (1870–1957) by Geoffrey Fleming, Director of the Bridge Hampton Historical Society in Bridgehampton, New York, c.2003, unpublished, emailed to the author 25.5.17.

[10] See Anne E Dawson, Rare Light: J Alden Weir in Windham Connecticut, 1882–1919, Wesleyan University Press, p.74: ‘he wintered in New York, where he participated in important art events, and summered in Windham.’ See also Nancy Ames, DeWitt McClellan Lockman, unpublished essay. His mother, Mary Taintor Abbe, was born in Windham, moving to New York when she married prominent City Attorney, Jacob Kennedy Lockman.

[11] Lockman interviewed many New York artists and architects associated with the National Academy of Design in the 1920s, transcripts of which are held in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institute.

[12] Catalogue of American Portraits in The New-York Historical Society, vol.1 A-L, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1974, pp.482–3.

[13] Kitty Shannon, For My Children, London, 1933, p.279.

Dewitt McClellan Lockman