Sir Samuel Luke Fildes

Winifred Ellerman (1894-1983)

Oil on canvas: 41(h) x 31(w) in /

104.1(h) x 78.7(w) cm

Signed and dated lower right: Luke Fildes 1914; inscribed on the reverse: Winifred Ellerman / painted by Luke Fildes / 1914

Request price
Request viewing
Contact us

Price request

Request viewing

We will contact you shortly after receiving your request.

Contact us

Telephone +44 (0)20 7493 3939


This framed painting is for sale.
Please contact us on:
+44 (0)20 7493 3939

SP 5476



 Liverpool 1843 – 1927 London


Winifred Ellerman (1894-1983)


Signed and dated lower right: Luke Fildes 1914; inscribed on the reverse Winifred Ellerman /painted by Luke Fildes / 1914

Oil on canvas: 41 x 31 in / 104.1 x 78.7 cm

Frame size: 51 ½ × 41 ½ in / 130.8 × 105.4 cm

In its original composition ‘Barbizon’ style gilded frame



Commissioned by Lord John & Lady Ellerman, 1 South Audley Street, London, then by descent

Private collection, Penzance, then by descent



London, Royal Academy of Arts, Summer Exhibition, 1915, no. 27



The Royal Academy Extra Illustrated, 1915

‘The Royal Academy: The War and the Exhibition. Article 1’, The Newcastle Daily Journal, 1st May 1915, p.5

‘The Academy: II. Portraits and Landscapes’, The Times, 14th May 1915, p.11

Bryher, The Heart to Artemis: A Writer’s Memoirs, Collins, London, 1963, pp.161–163



Having made his name painting social realist subjects which he developed from illustrations for The Graphic, by 1890 Luke Fildes’s chief preoccupation was society portraiture. He achieved the status of Royal Academician following his first foray into the genre in 1887, with portraits of his wife, Fanny, Mrs Luke Fildes (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) and the wife of his friend and art dealer, Mrs W L Agnew (Private collection). In succeeding years, according to David Croal Thompson, Fildes received more commissions than he could satisfy: ‘They gave the idea to many beautiful women to have their own portrait painted by one so facile, yet so faithful, with his brush’.[1] In 1893, Fildes was commissioned by The Graphic to paint portraits of the Duke and Duchess of York upon their engagement, which were such a success with the Royal Household, as well as the public, that the Princess of Wales expressed an interest in sitting for Fildes.[2] Further commissions to paint the first portrait of His Majesty King Edward VII, 1902, H M

Queen Alexandra, 1905 and Edward’s successor H M King George V in 1911/12 (Royal Collection Trust), established the artist as the official State Portraitist. King George V even sat for Sir Luke

(he was knighted in 1906), at his Melbury Road studio for final sittings instead of at Buckingham Palace.[3]


By the time Sir John Ellerman, first baronet[4] (1862–1933) commissioned the artist in 1914, presumably to celebrate his daughter’s coming of age, Fildes was ‘the Grand Old Man of the Royal Academy.’[5] The son of a German emigrant, Ellerman was a selfmade, intensely private man who built publishing and shipping empires following a successful early career in finance. Referred to as the ‘Shipping King’ of Britain during the war, he was thought to be the richest man in England and consequently, his daughter the richest woman. Described as ‘the Silent Ford—the Invisible Rockefeller’, in the Daily Mail’s obituary, he also held shares in British breweries and collieries, in addition to owning acres of prime London real estate.[6] Ellerman had a personal connection with the artist through the mutual friendship of Val Prinsep (1838–1904), whom Winifred described as her father’s ‘greatest friend’.[7] The son-in-law of Liverpool shipping magnate and Pre-Raphaelite patron, Frederick Leyland, Prinsep was on the boards of shipping and investment companies, and was described by Ellerman’s biographer as one of ‘a small handful of close confidants…who unusually combined business acumen with eminence

in the world of painting, being a Royal Academician; his son Thorby eventually became managing director of Ellermans.’[8]


Winifred Ellerman later recalled sitting for the likeness in her autobiography, The Heart to Artemis: ‘It must have been through this early association that we knew Sir Luke Fildes.[9] We often used to have tea on the lawn of his house in Melbury Road that was so quiet that we might have been in a country village. For some reason or other, I had to sit to him for a portrait. I resented this at first but Sir Luke’s quiet kindness soon smoothed out the prickles. He belonged to another age and though he lectured me gently upon the need to give up everything for art, his own life seemed as constricted as my own…Many factors besides vision and skill go to make a masterpiece and perhaps the man who is a bridge between two generations has the best chance of survival. Sir Luke had fought a hard battle to be allowed to paint at all in a period of

ugliness and horror. I have never met anyone who approached art with more humbleness. “You keep as still as a model,” he would sometimes say approvingly as he cleaned my portrait face with a sliced raw potato…he began to paint again with slow, careful strokes, “help everyone you can but it isn’t always possible.” Sir Luke seemed like a grandfather and I was a restless modern who welcomed the machine age that he found destructive. Yet he set me an example of patience and when I think of him now, standing beside his easel under the high windows, I am ashamed that I often responded so roughly to his advice.’[10]


Annie Winifred Glover Ellerman was born in Margate in 1894, the first child of Sir John Reeves Ellerman and Hannah Glover.[11] Winifred, who began to write under the androgynous pseudonym Bryher in the 1920s (after her favourite of the Isles of Scilly), had by her own account an ‘Epic’ childhood, travelling frequently throughout Europe, Africa and the Near East, which inspired in her an interest in history and archaeology, as well as a love of adventure. In 1914, while studying Arabic, Bryher published a poetry collection inspired by her travels, Region of Lutany (London: Chapman & Hall), commencing a long literary career which would include poetry, criticism and historical novels. While Bryher’s critical and commercial success as a writer

came later in life, she consistently used her wealth to support an international community of modernist writers and intellectuals as publisher and patron in the fields of literature, psychoanalysis and film. Bryher also used her wealth and influence to save people fleeing the Nazis during World War II, using her house in Switzerland as a receiving station for refugees.


Through the American poet Amy Lowell, Bryher became aware of Hilda Doolittle (known as HD), the celebrated imagist poet who became her lifelong partner. Bryher helped to raise HD’s

daughter Perdita (Mrs John Schaffner), whom she legally adopted. In 1921, Bryher married Robert McAlmon in New York to gain independence from her family, before moving with him to Paris (see fig.1).[12] Together they founded Contact Publishing to support avant-garde writers, publishing, amongst others, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein.

Bryher also provided Joyce with a monthly allowance to support his family, subsidized Harriet Shaw Weaver’s press and financed Sylvia Beach in the running of her influential bookshop, Shakespeare & Co. In 1927, having divorced McAlmon, Bryher married HD’s lover Kenneth MacPherson, with whom she established POOL Productions film company and founded Close Up, the first English film magazine. They also built a late Bauhaus home together in Switzerland above Lake Geneva named Kenwin, a combination of both their names (see fig.2). At this time Bryher also supported the psychoanalytic movement in Vienna while training to become a lay analyst with Hanns Sachs.[13] In 1933, Bryher wrote an article in Close-Up, ‘What shall we do in the War?’, on the situation of Jews in Germany, urging readers to take action. She also  established the Hanns Sachs Training Fund for refugee analysts arriving in the US. Having helped in the region of one hundred refugees cross the border from Germany to Switzerland, among them Walter Benjamin, she escaped to London for the duration of the war.



Fig. 1 Photograph of Bryher by Robert McAlmon (1896–1956). Bryher Papers, Beinecke Rare

Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Fig. 2 Photograph of Bryher at Kenwin, Switzerland, c.1932. Bryher Papers, Beinecke Rare

Book & Manuscript Library,Yale University.





With the convenient virtue of hindsight, this conventional portrait of a member of a wealthy shipping family, in white muslin and freshwater pearl necklace, seems at odds with the unconventional woman she became,1 but the artless and virginal simplicity of her appearance is appropriate for her status and the occasion – probably her coming-of-age. Her simply-styled dress with its short sleeves and wide blue silk sash, is a direct borrowing from an informal fashion (known as a chemise dress) of the late eighteenth century, as depicted in portraits by Vigée-Lebrun of the French court in the 1780s, most famously Queen Marie-Antoinette. Ellerman, seated in an eighteenth century chair, with a regal sweep of glittering gold brocade behind her, has a knotted ‘Marie- Antoinette fichu’ over her shoulders. Late eighteenth

century inspiration in decor and dress was highly popular in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain, and paintings by Angelica Kauffmann and George Romney proved useful sources

for portraiture. Shannon’s Iris (see fig. 2 in ‘Fashionable Flic-Flac Revisited’), for example, in her sheer white muslin blouse over a sleeveless dress, a muslin scarf over her head, is homage to Romney’s portrait of Emma Hamilton as The Spinstress, c.1784–5 (Kenwood House). ‘Who does not like pretty girls in white muslin?’ was George Moore’s question when confronted by such unchallenging images.2 And the vogue lasted into the third decade of the twentieth century,

as in Lavery’s Lady Anne Rhys, Duquesa de Ciudad Rodrigo (fig. 3) in a short-sleeved dress of white silk, a blue sash tied at the back, clearly (and suitably), showing the influence of Goya. This kind of dress has a claim to be, in every sense of the word, a classic one, flattering and timeless in its appeal.


Aileen Ribeiro


Fig. 3 Sir John Lavery, Portait of the Lady Anne Rhys, Duquesa de Ciudad Rodrigo and Grandee of First Class Spain, c.1934. Private collection.









 Liverpool 1843 – 1927 London


Luke Fildes was born in Liverpool in 1844, the son of a Port Authority official. He was brought up by his grandmother Mary Fildes, a political reformer who had been injured in the 1819 Peterloo Massacre near Manchester. Fildes studied at the Mechanics’ Institute, Liverpool and Warrington School of Art. In 1863 he won a scholarship to study at the South Kensington Art School and subsequently at the Royal Academy Schools. By the late 1860s he was working as an illustrator for Cornhill Magazine and Once a Week.


Fildes’s illustration Houseless and Hungry, showing paupers queuing for admission to the casual ward of a workhouse, appeared as a wood engraving in the first edition of The Graphic (4th December 1869). John Everett Millais brought it to the attention of Charles Dickens, who commissioned Fildes to illustrate what proved to be his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The unfinished novel was published posthumously in 1870 with twelve illustrations by Fildes. Luke Fildes developed the Houseless and Hungry image into Applicants for admission to a casual ward (Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, Egham), which was shown with some controversy at the Royal Academy in 1874. Fildes became one of the leading painters of the movement towards social realism which also included Frank Holl and Hubert von Herkomer. Among his last essays in this style is The Doctor, RA 1891 (Tate Britain, London), which depicts a physician watching over a mortally ill child in a cottage. This was exhibited to great acclaim and the print published by Agnew’s in 1892 proved extremely popular. 


Fildes married the artist Fanny Woods (fl. 1873-83; d.1927), sister of the painter Henry Woods, Fildes’s fellow pupil at Warrington School of Art. On his honeymoon journey in 1875 he began a series of Venetian subjects which he exhibited throughout the 1880s. He was elected ARA in 1879 and RA in 1887. By 1890 Luke Fildes’s chief preoccupation was society portraiture, including portraits of the Princess of Wales, RA 1894, Edward VII, RA 1902 and George V, 1912 (all in the British Royal Collection). He was knighted in 1906 and made KCVO in 1918. His success enabled him to commission a Queen Anne style house from Richard Norman Shaw at 11 Melbury Road, Kensington (1875-7). Luke Fildes died in February 1927 and the contents of his studio were auctioned at Christie’s on 24th June that year. 

[1] David Croal Thomson, Luke Fildes RA: His Life and Work, The Art Annual, London, 1895, p.19.

[2] Ibid., p. 21.

[3] “The King’s own room was hung almost entirely with Luke’s portraits” (according to my uncle’s diary). L.V. Fildes, Luke Fildes, RA, A Victorian Painter, London, 1968, p.193.

[4] Ellerman received a baronetcy in 1905 in recognition of his provision of shipping during the South African War. In 1921 he was made Companion of Honour.

[5] L V Fildes, op.cit., p.226.

[6] See W D Rubinstein, ‘Ellerman, Sir John Reeves, first baronet (1862–1933)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008. Fildes also painted John, the son of Sir John Ellerman, Bart, exhibited at the RA in 1917 (location unknown) and a Presentation Portrait of Sir John R Ellerman, Bt, himself exhibited at the RA in 1922 (presumably for Ellerman Lines, location unknown).

[7] Bryher, The Heart to Artemis: A Writer’s Memoirs, London, 1963, p.161. Ellerman became guardian of Prinsep’s eldest son, Thorby, who Bryher recalled ‘often came to our house.’

[8] W D Rubinstein, op.cit. Prinsep was also part of the Holland Park Circle that included Fildes. See William Palin, ‘31 Melbury Road, London, W14’, Country Life, vol.198, no.43, 21st October 2004, pp.102–105 and Professor Caroline Dackers, Artists at home: the Holland Park Circle 1850–1900, London, 1999.

[9] Val Prinsep was the god-father of Fildes’s son.

[10] Bryher, The Heart to Artemis: A Writer’s Memoirs, Collins, London, 1963, pp.161–162.

[11] Her parents arranged their marriage before the birth of their son and heir, John, fifteen years later in order to avoid publicity and legitimise their children. See K S Walwyn, ‘Ellerman, (Annie) Winifred (1894–1983)’, rev. Clare L Taylor, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.

[12] Remembered by McAlmon in his autobiography, Being Geniuses Together, London, 1938.

[13] She also paid for HD to be analysed by Sigmund Freud. See Dr Jana Funke, ‘Superior Guinea-Pig: Bryher and Psychoanalysis’ in M Magee & D Miller, Lesbian Lives: Psychoanalytic Narratives Old and New, New Jersey, 1997, pp.1–33. We are grateful to Dr Jana Funke, University of Exeter, for her assistance.

VictorianSir Samuel Luke Fildes