T04878 Miss Beatrice M. Dale Cast 1950 and c.1964
Oil on canvas 562 × 406 (22 1/8 × 16)
Inscribed ‘J.D. CAST’ in red paint, and below this ‘J.D. CAST 1950’ in black paint, both b.r.
Presented by David Cast, the artist's son, through the National Art Collections Fund 1987
Prov: Inherited by David Cast, the artist's son, 1976, by whom presented through the National Art Collections Fund 1987
Exh: The Royal Society of Portrait Painters Seventieth Annual Exhibition, Royal Institute Galleries, May 1964 (36, as ‘Miss Beatrice M. Dale Cast, Ph.D.’), repr. opp.as ‘Mrs. Beatrice M. Dale Cast, Ph.D.’); Jesse Dale Cast 1900–1976, South London Art Gallery, Oct.–Nov. 1980 (42, as ‘Miss Beatrice M. Dale Cast PhD.’, dated 1948)
Lit: National Art Collections Fund: Annual Review 1988, 1988, no.3386, repr. p.163.
This is a portrait of Beatrice Maud Dale Cast (1905–95), the younger of the artist's two sisters, both of whom were frequently painted and drawn by him. Beatrice, seated in front of a leather screen, stares out of the picture with her hands in her lap, clutching a pair of gloves. She wears a plain pale brown suit, her jacket fastened at the waist by a belt, and a red and black checkered blouse which is just visible at her neck and wrists. Her brown felt hat is tipped forward on her head. The picture is sombre in tone, dominated by browns and greys.
The portrait was initially completed and signed by the artist in 1950. However, Cast subsequently reworked the picture, signing it a second time above the first signature. This was probably before May 1964 when it was exhibited by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. The artist's son, David Cast, suggested that ‘the lower one (1950) had to be replaced when in 1964 he put it in a different frame and one with slips around the edges that obscured the earlier signature’ (letter to the complier, 23 March 1987). An old photograph (date unknown), presented to the Tate Gallery by the sitter, documents the first completed state of T04878. Cropped just above the first signature and date, the photograph shows the details and outlines of the image to be more precise than it appears today. The position of the vertical lines of the screen in the background above the sitter's right shoulder is different and the two buttonholes in the coat which appear in the painting are not recorded in the photograph. However, with the exception of these details, the portrait recorded in the photograph and the painting owned by the Tate Gallery are identical. Furthermore, analysis of the work by the Conservation Department has revealed that the painting has two layers. The artist partly scraped down the first layer and repainted the portrait with a second layer, which only partially covered the first. When modifying the work in this way the artist blurred the lines by applying brush-strokes at right angles to them. This technique is characteristic of his later work, for example, ‘Miss Maureen Grant’, 1960s (repr. South London Art Gallery exh. cat., 1982, pl.24).
Jesse Dale Cast attended the Slade School of Art between 1922 and 1926, where he developed an academic approach to painting, which involved producing a number of preparatory studies for each finished work. It was, therefore, his usual practice to repeat his subjects in both drawings and oil sketches before arriving at what was for him a satisfactory solution. As part of this process Cast transferred designs from one study to another, often leaving one unfinished. If he wanted to change the scale, as when making a painting from a smaller drawing, he used a grid of small squares to transfer the design. When copying on the same scale he made a tracing, covered the paper on the reverse with red chalk, and pressed the outlines onto the new canvas or panel.
T04878 is the last of four recorded finished oil portraits of Beatrice, and there were probably several related preparatory works of each of these. The portraits are ‘Portrait of Maud’, 1929 (repr. South London Art Gallery exh. cat., 1982, pl.5), ‘Beatrice’, 1935 (ibid., no.29, no repr. known) and ‘Maud in the Austrian Hat’, ?1937 (ibid., no.34, no repr. known). All of the works adopt the format of a three-quarter-length pose, with the intensity of the sitter's gaze providing the focal point of interest.
There are five studies for T04878 in the Tate Gallery Archive, four paintings and a drawing, all of which depict the sitter in the same position, wearing the same clothes (TGA 871.19, TGA 881.19, TGA 881.20, TGA 881.21, TGA 921.4). The studies were made over a period of about two years beginning in 1948. In 1944 the artist's wife, Vedwina Cast, was killed by enemy action, leaving the artist to care for his two-year-old son David. The next few years were a trying period for the Cast family as a whole. The artist's father died in 1948 and it was after this that Cast began his first study for T 04878, a drawing (TGA 881.20) in charcoal, wash and pencil on paper (482 × 640, 19 × 13). In a letter to the compiler of 25 February 1987 the sitter recalled that initially she had been reluctant to comply with her brother's wish to portray her at this time. However, ‘I knew his situation was precarious, I understood his loneliness and dismay; perhaps too, he knew... that to sit still leads to calm, calm leads to reflection and reflection can lead to a more balanced acceptance of the difficulties we meet in life. So he succeeded in persuading me’.
The studies were made in two sizes. Two works are larger than the painting and three are smaller. The order in which the various studies were made is not clear, and the only dated work is the drawing of 1948 (TGA 881.20). It was unusual for Cast to sign and date drawings, and he may have done so on this occasion for some unrecorded exhibition. The drawing is squared as if for transfer. The page is covered with a dust of red chalk, probably for a copy to be made from it. It is in the same proportions as the finished painting, but it is smaller in scale and would not, therefore, have been used as a cartoon for the painting. The two buttonholes added to the coat when the artist reworked T04878 are visible in this study.
According to the sitter, this drawing was made before the other works. For her it captures the feelings of anxiety, frustration and despair that she was experiencing at the time and testifies to her brother's ability ‘to portray with utter fidelity and feeling what he had before him’. She recalled that, ‘A former colleague of mine who had known me a little in happier days, cared nothing for our troubles (probably knew nothing) and had no artistic inclinations, pronounced the drawing “horrible”. She was shocked no doubt at my transformation ... My mother and sister maybe had been able to shed some of their emotion in constant responsibility - mine had had no such outlet, only frustration’. By the time Cast finished painting T04878 in 1950 his sister had begun to recover from this troubled period and in her view the painting is ‘free from all the complexities’ that affected her appearance as recorded in TGA 881.20, although its mood remains sombre.
TGA 871.19 is an oil sketch with red chalk on canvas (521 × 432, 20 1/2 × 17). When this work was presented by David Cast, the artist's son, in 1983, it was one of a number of unpainted, stretched canvases from the artist's studio. The artist had stretched it with the portrait on the reverse, intending to use the canvas for a new painting, and the study was only discovered after the gift had been received. When the work was removed from its stretcher, a separate landscape painting of Hungerford Bridge and the buildings on the North bank of the Thames was revealed at the right edge of the portrait. It is unfinished, lacks detail, and by Cast's standards is rudimentary. He often painted and made drawings of Thames views: ‘Hungerford Bridge’ (Museum of London, no repr. known), for example, is a drawing depicting exactly the same view as this only in greater detail. In the portrait study only the face and some of the background are painted. The rest of the picture exists in outline, not drawn but transferred in red chalk. This work is on the same scale as TGA 881.20, from which the image was probably transferred.
The three remaining studies are smaller in size than the two mentioned above. In TGA 881.19 (oil and red chalk on wood, 358 × 254, 14 1/8 × 10), only the sitter's head and the background are painted, revealing most of the underdrawing of the image transferred by red chalk. By contrast, in TGA 881.21, a roughly and rapidly painted study in oil on canvas, the artist has completely covered the underdrawing. The lack of precise detail in this particular version suggests that it may have functioned as a guide for colours to be used in the finished painting.
Lastly, TGA 921.4, an oil sketch on board, depicts a window with a view onto buildings to the left of the sitter's head which is not included in the other studies. The paint has been applied relatively freely in diagonal strokes throughout the work. On the reverse of the board, or sketching panel, the artist has again painted an unfinished scene of the Thames. According to David Cast, this was almost certainly painted in the 1930s (letter to the compiler, 30 October 1991).
T04878 and its related studies were made in London. From 1945 Cast lived at 46 Albany Mansions, Albert Bridge Road, Battersea, and during the 1940s also had a studio at 73b South Side, Clapham Common. His sister Beatrice was living at Malwood Road, Clapham Common, from 1943 and was teaching at a school in Islington. She recalled that the drawing was completed in about four sittings in her brother's South Side studio. With regard to the pose she adopted in T04878 the sitter commented, ‘he [Cast] had in his studio a “throne” on which there was a chair on which I sat, and I just sat naturally, with my hands on my lap and he gave me the gloves to hold. I would sit on average for twenty minutes and then rest’. When questioned about her attire the sitter told the compiler,
All the clothes I wear in the portrait were years old except for the blouse which I made myself. The suit and the gloves had been bought from Burberry's, the real Burberry's, in the Haymarket in their January sale in 1939 before the war and the hat was a copy made for me by Debenham's of Wigmore St. in 1946 of one bought from a shop in Sherborne in 1941. (I had been evacuated to Stalbridge, Dorset in 1939.)
She added, ‘When I made the blouse I think he [Cast] thought the colour looked good with the hat... the hat was of brown felt edged with darker brown velvet with a bow at the side’.
Cast moved his studio, along with the sitter's chair and the leather screen, to his flat at Albany Mansions in about 1950, and Miss Cast also recalled about twelve sittings there for T04878, all taking place at weekends or in the school holidays. At one time he asked her if she still had the same clothes when restarting work on the portrait after an interval.
When exhibited in 1964, T04878 was listed in the catalogue as ‘Miss Beatrice M. Dale Cast, Ph.D.’. This degree had been awarded in 1962. In 1950 Beatrice Cast was teaching at Owen's Grammar School for Boys in Islington and already had a Teachers' Certificate of Education from Furzedown Training College, a degree in French from King's College London, an M.A. in Psychology and a R.S.A. typing certificate. In the late 1950s she decided to register for a Ph.D. at University College London on child development and ability, in order to gain recognition of her teaching skills and to secure her future in the profession. The sitter suggested to the compiler that the degree was added to the title at that time in order to distinguish T04878 from the earlier ‘Portrait of Maud’, 1929, which then may have been known as ‘Portrait of Beatrice Maud Dale Cast’, the title inscribed by the artist on the reverse of the canvas. She also thought that, ‘By the late addition of the Ph.D. he [Cast] possibly hoped to attract the attention of those at University College who would be sponsoring the portrait of Sir Ifor Evans whom he knew was retiring, who lived at No.2 Calverley Park [Tunbridge Wells] and whom he therefore was acquainted with’. (The Cast family home had been in Calverly Park. The commission went to Cast's friend William Coldstream). She thought that another reason for the addition of the title ‘Ph.D.’ was ‘maybe also the relief he felt - me too - at the final completion and death of my thesis!’
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996