Oil paint on canvas
498 x 403 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the bequest of Florence Fox 1966
Technique and condition
How to citeRoy Perry, technique and condition, November 2003 in Nicola Moorby, ‘Girl with Palmettes; ?Portrait of the Artist’s Wife c.1914 by Malcolm Drummond’, catalogue entry, April 2008, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, May 2012, http://www
Bonfiglioli’s title draws attention to the most distinctive aspect of the work, the brightly coloured mural frieze, which is partially obscured by the head of the woman. A palmette is a decorative moulding or painting in the form of a stylised palm leaf. The visible portion of the frieze is composed of two large fan shaped palmette motifs linked by the representation of an animal, probably a lion, of which only the head and legs can be seen. The design appears to be painted on to the plaster of the wall in the manner of a stencil. Unfortunately, despite the distinctive appearance of the background, the setting for Girl with Palmettes has never been identified. It was not recognised by Drummond’s daughter from his first marriage, or the artist’s second wife, Margaret, who did, however, raise the suggestion that ‘the decorative motifs could have been in a “pub” in the neighbourhood of his studio in Yeoman’s Row, Chelsea’.3 A further possibility is that this design is part of an original and experimental scheme decorating a private, domestic room similar to that in another undated painting by Drummond, Interior (private collection).4 In this work the viewer looks through an open door to a passageway which is decorated with a horizontal frieze border characterised by repeated blocks of colour with a semi-circular fan-like motif. The setting in Interior is also unknown, but, furnished with a chair and an umbrella stand, it looks like the hallway of a house. Drummond’s interiors often contain visual references to artistic practice, either in the form of paintings hanging in the background or in the depiction of a particularly noticeable feature of the décor, such as the highly coloured floral cloth covering the grand piano in At the Piano c.1912 (fig.3), or the painted panels and glass lanterns of the Hammersmith Palais de Danse 1920 (Plymouth City Art Museum and Art Gallery).5
The only other evidence regarding Girl with Palmettes is that which can be inferred from the details of the sitter’s costume. The purple broad-brimmed asymmetrical hat with the wide orange band and the dark fitted jacket with slightly puffed sleeves and frilled collar seem to date from the period 1914–20 and resemble the respectable, although not particularly expensive or fashionable, clothes worn by a woman from the urban middle class.9 An undated pencil sketch from the artist’s estate, now in Tate Archive (fig.4), appears to be a drawing of the same figure in three-quarter length profile with annotated colour notes describing her clothing. The partially legible description of the hat as ‘Purple’ and ‘Dark inky blue’ with a wide ribbon band of ‘Bright orange | & crimson shadows’ corresponds with the appearance in Girl with Palmettes and suggests that this is a sketch associated with Tate’s painting. The drawing reveals the woman’s coat to be a waist-length tailored jacket buttoned at the front with further button detailing at the back, worn with a simple straight skirt. The material is described in the notes as variations of grey, green and blue, and is therefore a lighter colour than appears in the painting. Furthermore, in place of the pale frilled collar, the woman in the sketch wears at her neck a scarf described as ‘Black with white spots’, although she does have a white frilled cuff emerging from the sleeve of her jacket. Wendy Baron has suggested that the ‘spiky white collar’ of Girl with Palmettes was a common trimming during the period since a similar one appears in a painting by Harold Gilman, The Coral Necklace 1914 (Brighton Museum and Art Gallery).10 Either the girl in the painting is wearing a different coat from the girl in the sketch or it is possible that Drummond changed small details of the woman’s costume from his initial observations, such as the colour of the coat and the appearance of the collar, to suit the overall aesthetic intentions of the oil painting.
Drummond’s painting should be viewed in context with the subject matter of Gilman’s Girl with a Teacup and other paintings by his contemporaries such as Someone Who Waits 1907 by Spencer Gore (fig.6). These pictures feature young women in contemporary dress wearing hats, posed within a decorated interior. London women became a favourite subject for the Camden Town Group, particularly women from the urban working or lower middle classes. Although the sitters were often known personally to the artists, for example Walter Sickert’s paintings of his charlady Mrs Barrett, or Gilman’s Portrait of Mrs Victor Sly (Wakefield Art Gallery),14 a Fitzroy Street neighbour and friend of Ginner’s, they are not primarily portraits of individual characters. Rather they are representations of a collective urban breed, archetypes of a particular social existence and experience distilled within the visual detail of costume and environment.15 Although the direct and unaffected gaze of the sitter in Girl with Palmettes indicates that she appears to be quite comfortable in her role as model, the rigidity of her pose and the fact that she is wearing her hat indoors suggests that she is not fully at ease in her surroundings. Despite the striking impact of her presence, there is a lack of affection or complicity in the artist’s presentation of her. A balance is struck between intimacy and distance, and the model is vividly described but not emotionally characterised.
How to cite
Nicola Moorby, ‘Girl with Palmettes; ?Portrait of the Artist’s Wife c.1914 by Malcolm Drummond’, catalogue entry, April 2008, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, May 2012, http://www