Blackboards get new names and a new show

LONDON – In the early twentieth century, Glenn Philpott was one of Britain’s most respected portrait painters. The artist was known for depicting high-society babysitters in a style that mimicked the old masters, so his works would comfortably sit on the walls of his clients’ country houses alongside generations of their family members.

“All the papers are raving about P. now. Did you see?” Philpott’s friend Gladys Miles wrote to art historian Randall Davies, in 1910. “Everyone rushes to paint like sheep.”

However, by the 1930s, Philpot’s painting style had not only become more modern, incorporating abstract backgrounds and A lighter color palette, he was also painting delicate portraits of blacks, some of which, unusually for the time, were shown at the Royal Academy of Art in London.

The most common subject of lions for Philpot was Henry Thomas, a Jamaican man who met the painter in 1929 and became his servant and muse until Philpott’s death in 1937. In Balthazar, painted the year they met, Philpote portrayed Thomas as one of the Elders Bible men. In tasteful studies of Thomas himself, Philpott carefully depicted the texture, shades, and lines of Thomas’ hair and skin.

Many of Thomas’ portraits, along with other paintings of black psychopaths, are part of “Glenn Philpott: Flesh and SoulOn display through October at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, England. The show is the first major retrospective of Philpot’s paintings in nearly 40 years, and arrives at a time when his work has had a new echo.

In the gallery, pieces are generally displayed in chronological order, from the printed books that Philpot made as a student at the turn of the century to his final works from 1937. Among the paintings of aristocrats and socialites that made his career, his gracious and varied portraits of black sitters stand out.

But when it came to putting together the exhibition, Simon Martin, curator and museum director, felt that some of the paintings’ original names were outdated, he said in a recent interview.

In Philpott’s time, Martin said, “A lot of these works were just called ‘Negro Head.'” He added, ‘In the title line, it’s probably on the more plausible side’ of the early 20th century. But in 2022, Martin said, ‘But in 2022,’ Martin said. If we are able to, and we can make the effort to find out who these people are and where they come from, I think we should.”

To do this, he worked with a team of advisors, including Alyo Akinkugbe, who founded the Instagram account ABlackHistoryOfArt; British opera singer and broadcaster Peter Brathwaite. and Michael Hatt, who teaches art history at the University of Warwick. Where possible, they renamed Philpot’s plates to include the model’s name and birthplace, avoiding mentioning the sitter’s race.

This isn’t the first time that portrait names have been reformulated to provide more information about their black subjects. for Exhibition 2019 At the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the works of Manet, Picasso, and Cézanne have been renamed to include the names of black supermodels.

The original title of the 1778 painting Dido Elizabeth Bell and Her Cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray by David Martin refers only to Lady Elizabeth’s white British aristocracy. Until the 1990s, Dido, who was black, was assumed to have been a slave or companion, until research revealed that the duo were related, and had similar upbringing in the British aristocracy (the painting is inspired by the 2014 movie “”belle“).

organizations like National Trust, a British heritage preservation charity, has also begun to re-examine how artworks in its large collections of black people are framed. “It is important that we do not omit the original language as this sheds light on historical views, but we have sensitively updated information on some of the artworks,” a National Trust spokesperson said by email. An 18th-century painting “A Young Coachman” in Erddig, a National Trust property in North Wales, for example, now includes information on the identity of the black man in the painting.

National Fund ongoing efforts He distinguishes Britain’s colonial past Some have met push back, and deciding whether to rename artworks can be complicated. “Some believe that a name change can change the artist’s intent,” said Issey Idojian, whose recent collection of essays Outside the Sun: Essays at the Crossroads of Race explores the relationship between Western and black art. “If the artist himself chooses the name, the intent of this gesture must be taken into account,” she added.

Martin and his advisory team saw appropriate renaming of Philpot’s work, given that it was more likely that auction houses at the time had given his paintings their public titles, rather than the artist himself. “A name like ‘Negro sadness’ isn’t very expressive,” Akinkogby said in a phone interview. “Even if Philpot had called it that, I don’t think it would confront the social and political context we’re in now by meaning we’re renaming it.”

Martin said that Philpot’s experiences as a gay man, at a time when sexual activity between men was a criminal offense in Britain, would have given the artist a sense of affinity with his black female sitters. “Even though he does everything he can to fit in and be part of the community, there is always a feeling that somehow he doesn’t,” Martin said.

However, there was a profound disparity in the power dynamic between Philpott’s social standing and the number of his black subjects, especially in the case of Thomas, his servant. But the care with which he portrayed blacks still contradicted some of his peers’ approaches. Martin compared his work to the French artist Paul Colin, known for his illustrations on Art Deco posters around the same time.

“Look at some of these pictures of Josephine Bakerfor example, sometimes approaching caricatures,” Martin said. Becker, who became one of Europe’s most famous artists of the 1920s, was often depicted as being topless, with stereotypically large red lips. “It’s not something you get in the business of Philpot,” Martin added.

In the last years, ExhibitionsAnd the Podcasts Researchers have discovered how black people are portrayed in European art. Although this has been particularly noticeable since the “moment of reckoning” The murder of George Floyd “Among artists, whose main theme is representation—literally, how something is portrayed and seen—discussions about black vision have probably always drawn attention to the bigger picture, to the changing perceptions of black people through the ages,” Idojian said in 2020.

When Philpot began painting more black and working-class subjects in a modernist style, many in the art world felt confused, even insulted. “Glen Philpott Goes to Picasso,” the Scotsman newspaper wrote in 1932 after the unveiling of one of his new paintings at the Royal Academy.

But looking at it today, Philpot’s photographs speak to current discussions of representation in art and show a depth of feeling that continues a century later.