Meredith Frampton
Portrait of a Young Woman 1935

Artwork details

Artist
Meredith Frampton 1894–1984
Title
Portrait of a Young Woman
Date 1935
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Support: 2057 x 1079 mm
frame: 2145 x 1174 x 65 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1935
Reference
N04820

Summary

Portrait of a Young Woman 1935 is a painting by the British artist Meredith Frampton. An elegantly dressed young woman with light auburn tightly waved hair and pale skin is depicted standing firmly contrapposto, staring steadfastly outwards and toward her left. Wearing a floor-length silk dress with an ivory skirt and a pale lilac bodice, the model’s left arm is bent at her elbow and held horizontally across her body, while her right arm is angled upright resting closely against her right breast. Surrounding the woman are several objects realised in a neoclassical style. In the right of the composition is a cello that leans against a round stone pedestal, on top of which are piled several books. On the left is a round side table with a partially unfurled paper scroll, a cello bow, a white vase and the head of a camellia flower. The vase holds a tree branch with dark green glossy leaves that points upward while bending slightly outward to the left. The curve of the branch echoes the formal configuration of the model’s pose and the shape of the other curved objects in the composition, such as the cello and the scroll. The work is inscribed ‘19|MF|35’ in the top right.

Frampton painted Portrait of a Young Woman using oil paint on canvas over the course of a year in 1934–5. It was made in the studio he inherited from his father, the sculptor George Frampton (1860–1928), that was located in St John’s Wood, London. Portrait painting was an unusually protracted process for Frampton, who routinely took twelve months to complete a work, often fabricating the objects he required for the background himself. As such, the items he selected for the painting were often carefully chosen based on their ability to survive the lengthy procedure. Tate curator Richard Morphet described Frampton’s technique for making the portraits in the following manner: ‘Frampton did not use photographs, and although a gifted draughtsman he made use only of preparatory drawings. He preferred to draw direct with the brush, which permitted a greater precision than he could achieve in line. He would sometimes make preliminary oil sketches of a sitter’s face or hands’ (Morphet 1982, pp.17–18). A photograph of Frampton working on this painting in 1934 clearly shows his working method. In the image we see Frampton standing in front of the canvas with his paintbrushes in his hands. The painted figure of the woman is almost fully complete and two preparatory oil sketches (one of her head and the other of her folded left arm) are pinned to the left side of the canvas. In the background, only the outline of the cello is visible. Its bridge and strings have been fluidly, but precisely, outlined in oil paint, as have the base of the side table and the unfurling paper scroll (see Morphet 1982, p.2).

The model for the painting has been revealed to be Miss Margaret Austin-Jones (later Mrs T.R. Evans), who was twenty-three at the time the work was executed. ‘The sitter,’ Frampton noted in 1977, ‘was very musical, though not a performer, and a cello an appropriate symbol – there was also the challenge of having to draw it correctly in perspective’ (quoted in Morphet 1982, p.62). The portrait, he explained, ‘was painted as a relaxation (rather a strenuous one) after a series of commissioned portraits and it made a welcome change to paint an assembly of objects which appealed to me as being beautiful in their own right and lacking any need for embellishment’ (quoted in Morphet 1982, p.62). According to Morphet, the model’s dress was made from a Vogue pattern by Frampton’s mother, the artist Christabel Cockerell (1863–1951). The vase, made in mahogany, was designed by Frampton himself.

The work relates to the tradition of full-length portraits of women that is associated in particular with the work of earlier artists such as Anthony Van Dyck (1599–1641) and Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788). However, the level of detail and clarity of each object, along with the distinctive colour palette, give the portrait an unmistakeably modern feel. Morphet compared Frampton’s paintings to the early works of Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978) and René Magritte (1898–1967) for their shared qualities of ‘extreme stillness, acute awareness simultaneously of the present moment and the past’ and fascination with the object (see Morphet 1982, p.25). Portrait of a Young Woman was first exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London 1935, shortly after Frampton’s election as an Associate Member. It was also exhibited in 1982 at the Tate Gallery, London, and Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, as part of the artist’s first solo exhibition, which coincided with his eighty-eighth birthday.

Further reading
Richard Morphet, Meredith Frampton, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1982, pp.62–3, reproduced pp.15, 63.

Judith Wilkinson
May 2016