Pauline Boty

Portrait of Derek Marlowe with Unknown Ladies

1962–3

In Tate Britain
Artist
Pauline Boty 1938–1966
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1222 x 1224 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Denise Coates Foundation on the occasion of the 2018 centenary of women gaining the right to vote in Britain 2018
Reference
T15086

Summary

This oil painting on a square canvas is a portrait of Derek Marlowe (1938–1996), an English writer and painter. Boty painted Marlowe in a monochrome blue-grey palette on an indigo-blue background, showing him only from the torso upwards, leaning forwards to rest on his elbows. His black jumper gives him a strong outline and presence, focusing attention on his face and hands. The darker areas of Marlowe’s face are lighter and bluer than the black of his hair and jumper, and his face has been painted to give the impression of slight movement, as if capturing a moment on black-and-white film. The figure is set against a blue background that has been formatted to reference analog film. Five curved shapes extend from the left-hand edge of the canvas and blue markings form a vertical line on the right, resembling perforations and audio signal waveforms as recorded on film. This might suggest that the portrait was painted in response to photographic images or cinematic footage of the sitter; or the motifs may have been added to highlight his role and image within the visual culture of the time. Marlowe is depicted holding a cigarette between two fingers while smiling into the ‘lens’. The pose he holds was common in celebrity photographs of the time and is most famously associated with images of Audrey Hepburn in Blake Edwards’s film Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).

In a separate frieze-like section above Marlowe’s figure, Boty painted the faces of four women on a red background, their heads cut short at the forehead and chin, the outside two also cropped by the side of the canvas. The women have smudged pouts and, although one smiles widely, their faces are disquieting due to Boty’s variously crude use of paint and sharp accents of colour, as well as their forced expressions. The contrast between the cool, filmic treatment of an individual male sitter, who is named in the title, and Boty’s decorative montage of unknown women’s faces is representative of an important shift in Boty’s work around 1962–3, when she increasingly employed contrasting styles within multifigure compositions to critique imbalances of power between images of men and women. This reached a climax in the paintings It’s a Man’s World I 1964 and II 1965–6 (private collections). Boty later spoke about the expectation that women would play roles and therefore their personalities would remain relatively unknown. She described how, for most men, women were ‘kind of things, or something you don’t quite know about’ (quoted in Sue Tate 2013, p.79).

Boty was especially drawn to widely published images of Marilyn Monroe after the actress’s death on 5 August 1962 and, over the following months, she responded to these images in paintings such as Colour Her Gone 1962 (Wolverhampton Art Gallery) and The Only Blonde in the World 1963 (Tate T07496). The expression of one of Boty’s ‘unknown ladies’ in her portrait of Marlowe relates to an iconic closely-cropped photograph of Monroe’s smiling face, tilted so that she looks down with wide kohl-lined eyes, which was used on the front cover of the November 1962 issue of the British men’s magazine Town (formerly known as Man about Town) and repeated by Boty in Colour Her Gone. These ‘unknown ladies’ are, however, more generic female faces than specific representations of Monroe or other cultural icons. They are especially similar to those Boty cut from popular magazines and collaged in a row for her unrealised theatre designs of 1961 for Jean Genet’s The Balcony, a drama set in a brothel and characterised by power struggles. Boty also painted this row of faces in a set design for Scene V of the play, when one of the prostitutes complains to ‘Madame’ that dressing up and playing roles could damage ‘a girl’s soul’ (Sue Tate 2013, p.55).

Portrait of Derek Marlowe with Unknown Ladies was made while Boty was living and working in London. At this time she also taught occasionally at Hammersmith School of Art and took on acting roles. Her room at Addison Road near Shepherd’s Bush was the location for a scene in Pop Goes the Easel, a forty-four-minute portrait of London’s pop art scene made in the summer of 1962 by Ken Russell for the BBC programme Monitor. 1963 was a year of personal and professional transition for Boty: she married literary agent and television producer Clive Goodwin in June and her first solo exhibition was held at London’s Grabowski Gallery from 10 September to 5 October.

Further reading
Sue Watling and David Alan Mellor, Pauline Boty (1938–1966): The Only Blonde in the World, London 1998, p.10, reproduced p.13.
Sue Tate, Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman, exhibition catalogue, Wolverhampton 2013, pp.55, 79, reproduced p.93.

Rachel Rose Smith
June 2018

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Display caption

Pop artist Boty used popular culture imagery to question how gender roles were presented. This work contrasts the treatment of an individual male sitter and the decorative depiction of unnamed women. Derek Marlowe (1938–1996) was an English writer and painter. He appears cool and assertive, in a pose common in celebrity photographs of the time. The smudged faces of four anonymous women are cut off at the forehead and chin. Boty said that for most men, women were ‘kind of things’.

Gallery label, May 2019

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

You might like