Wyndham Lewis 1882-1957
T04118 Nigel Tangye
Oil on canvas 967 x 917 (38 x 36 1/8)
Inscribed ‘Wyndham Lewis 1946' b.l.
Presented by Mr and Mrs E.W.F. Tomlin 1985
Prov: Commissioned from the artist by Ann Todd for her husband Nigel Tangye; sold Sotheby's 7 April 1971, lot 62; bt private collection, London, from which purchased by Mr and Mrs Tomlin 1972
Exh: Wyndham Lewis, Tate Gallery, July-August 1956 (154)
Lit: Nigel Tangye, The Story of Glendorgal, a Personal View, 1962, p.57; John Rothenstein, Time's Thievish Progress, 1970, p.35; Walter Michel, Wyndham Lewis: Paintings and Drawings, 1971, p.345 (no.123), pl.148; Richard Humphreys, ‘Cover Illustration. Nigel Tangye, 1946 (Tate Gallery)', Enemy News, 25, winter 1987, pp.4-5 (repr. cover)
This is one of the last portraits painted by Wyndham Lewis, who began to lose his sight in 1950. Walter Michel lists only two later portraits, one of T.S. Eliot of 1949, now at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and one of Julian Symons which had been begun in 1939 but which was also finished in 1949.
The portrait was commissioned by the sitter's wife, the actress Ann Todd, who also chose the artist. She recalled in a conversation of 9 June 1988 that she wanted it as a gift for her husband for being so patient during the great success of her first film ‘The Seventh Veil' (1945), adding that ‘it is always trying to be next to a film star'. She thought the portrait appeared too hard in the face, and asked Lewis to soften it; he apparently was not upset by this, although she was not certain that he altered it.
The sittings took place in the artist's studio in Notting Hill Gate, which Tangye remembered as ‘not like a studio; but a room an artist might use en passant' (letter to the Tate Gallery, 1 Nov. 1985). For some of these sittings he still wore his RAF uniform. The chair and table reappear in the 1949 portrait of Eliot (repr. Michel 1971, pl.149). Lewis told Tangye several times that he had copied the draperies in the background from Holbein's portrait of ‘The Ambassadors' in the National Gallery; these are very similar, but not an exact copy of the pattern. According to Tangye's autobiography published in 1962 there were thirty-five sittings, each of 2 1/2 hours.
The description of the portraits in Lewis's studio by John Rothenstein as ‘weak in drawing and pallid in colour, which seemed designed merely to flatter' hardly applies to this, which is both carefully drawn and quite richly coloured.
Nigel Tangye (1908/9-1988) was a senior and well known pilot during the war, and an author of short stories and travel books (obituary, The Times, 4 June 1988). He opened his house in Cornwall, Glendorgal, near Newquay, as a hotel in 1950, and the portrait hung there until it was sold in 1971 (the hotel closed in 1972).
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, p.204