James Pryde

The Doctor

exhibited 1909

On display at Tate Britain

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 857 x 719 mm
frame: 1023 x 902 x 130 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1940
Reference
N05172

Display caption

This is the first of a series of pictures Pryde entitled ‘The Human Comedy’. Each painting is dominated by a four-poster bed, based on Pryde’s childhood memory of the magnificent bed in Mary Queen of Scots’ bedroom at Holyrood Palace. The artist remarked: ‘a bed is an important idea. Look what happens on it and how much of our lives we spend on it’. The dramatic shadows and macabre aura of expectancy in The Doctor function like a scene in a play; indeed, Pryde was a set and poster designer in the theatre.

Gallery label, February 2016

Catalogue entry

N05172 THE DOCTOR c. 1908

Not inscribed.
Canvas, 33 3/4×28 1/4 (85·5×72).
Chantrey Purchase from the Leicester Galleries 1940.
Coll: W. H. Jessop 1910; Sir Edmund Davis 1913, sold Christie's, 7 July 1939 (86), bought Leicester Galleries.
Exh: International Society, New Gallery, January–February 1909 (189), as ‘The Doctor (No.1 of a series of twelve pictures entitled “The Human Comedy”)’; Twenty Years of British Art 1890–1910, Whitechapel Art Gallery, May–June 1910 (525); Royal Glasgow Institute, September–November 1913 (209); R.A., 1941 (193); Brighton and Tate Gallery, July–October 1949 (18).
Lit: T. Martin Wood, ‘The Edmund Davis Collection II’ in Studio, LXIV, 1915, p.236, repr. p.233; H. Granville Fell, ‘James Pryde, Painter’ in Apollo, XII, 1930, p.356; Herbert Furst, ‘Standards of Criticism’ in Apollo, XXXVI, 1942, pp.87–9, repr.; Hudson, 1949, p.56, repr. frontispiece (in colour).

This is No.1 of a series of pictures entitled ‘The Human Comedy’, all of which are dominated by a large four-poster bed inspired, according to Hudson, by Pryde's memories of the four-poster in Mary Queen of Scots' bedroom at Holyrood. H. Granville Fell quotes Pryde as having said, when asked how he came to attach so much importance to the bed idea, ‘Well, a bed is an important idea. Look what happens on it and how much of our lives we spend on it.’ Other known pictures in the series, which occupied Pryde for much of his career, are ‘The Derelict’ (Lord Cowdray), ‘The Red Bed’ (Scottish Modern Arts' Association), ‘Lumber: a Silhouette’ (Major A. C. J. Congreve), ‘The Broker's Man’ (the Hon. Mrs Ionides), ‘The Grave’ (Tate Gallery, N04488) and ‘The Death Bed’ (formerly Payne Whitney Collection, New York; repr. Hudson, op. cit., pl.20).

Sir Edmund Davis, who owned this picture and the sketch for it, N05376, was an important patron of Pryde's, lending him a studio in Lansdowne House, Holland Park, from 1914. A gouache drawing for the figure of the doctor was sold at Sotheby's, 28 March 1962 (26, with 3 others), bt. Colnaghi.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II

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