Display caption

This portrait is both a remarkable technical performance and a deliberately backward-looking souvenir. Mrs Huxley, the widow of the biologist T.H.Huxley, was the artist's mother-in-law (twice over, as after the death of his first wife he married her sister). In 1905 he had painted Mrs Huxley's portrait as a gift on her eightieth birthday. In 1927, when he was himself seventy-seven, he painted a replica at the request of Henry Tonks, who gave it to the Tate Gallery. The painting is in the manner of Holbein, even to the fabric of the dress and the panelling in the background. Tonks was a teacher at the Slade School, and his pupils had once been the avant-garde of London.

September 2004