Natalie Dower

Portrait of Patrick George

1958

Not on display

Artist
Natalie Dower born 1931
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1125 × 925 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the artist 2020
Reference
T15479

Summary

Portrait of Patrick George 1958 is a three-quarter length portrait of a seated man viewed frontally. The man’s head is slightly tilted to his left, his unfocused gaze directed beyond the picture plane. The man is dressed in a light blue shirt and a beige jumper visible underneath a brown jacket, while his trousers are dark brown, painted in a hue very similar to that of the chair on which he is seated and of the sideboard behind him. The background is starkly divided into two areas of similar size: the darker bottom half and the lighter top, painted in off-whites. The man’s short hair is parted and falls untidily on one side. His hands rest between his parted legs, holding a long brush. Only a couple of objects appear in the picture alongside the man, resting on the sideboard behind him and visible to his left: a book and transparent glass bottle of water.

The sitter, the British artist Patrick George (1923–2016), was a close friend of Dower’s. Her portrait of him was painted from life, directly on the canvas without preparatory drawing. It took numerous sittings, arranged regularly at George’s home and studio in Moreton Terrace, London, a short walk from the then Tate Gallery on Millbank. After a ten-year relationship between Dower and the painter Euan Uglow (1932–2000) came to an end, George suggested to Dower that they should sit for each other as a way of enabling Dower to focus on a new challenge. The arrangement was that, at each session, the time posing and painting was divided equally between the two artists. George’s portrait of Dower, which shows her sitting on a chair in three-quarters profile in a stark interior setting, is also in Tate’s collection (Patrick George, Natalie Dower 1958 [Tate T00421]). While George believed that the portrait that Natalie Dower painted of him was abandoned (Chamot, Farr and Butlin, 1964, see Tate catalogue entry on George’s portrait of Dower, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/george-natalie-dower-t00421#, accessed 23 October 2019), Dower’s recollection is that she and George decided that their paintings were completed and satisfactory at the same time (Dower, correspondence with Tate curator Elena Crippa, 11 September 2019).

In portraiture the three-quarters is a common format that was established in the seventeenth century (then referred to as half-length). Examples range widely from Diego Velázquez’s (1599–1660) Pope Innocent X c.1650 (Galleria Doria Pamphili, Rome) to the much later Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl 1864 by James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903, Tate N03418). What remains consistent in such different portraits is the depiction of garments and objects to suggest the social status, occupation and qualities of the sitter. Dower’s Portrait of Patrick George seems to fulfil the function of traditional portraiture, establishing itself as a visual narrative in which both sitter and painter play a role. The painting tells us the profession of the sitter, who is holding a paintbrush. Through the demeanour of the man, his simple clothes and basic furnishings, the work also seems to suggest an ascetic life, solely preoccupied with and dedicated to painting.

Portrait of Patrick George was painted four years after Dower had completed her National Diploma in Art and Design, studying in London at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts and at the Slade School of Fine Art, where William Coldstream was Slade Professor (from 1949–75). Other prominent artists with a life-long commitment to painting from life and who were close to Coldstream as students and teachers at the Slade were Patrick George himself (who taught there from 1948) and Euan Uglow (as a student between 1951–4, at the same time as Dower, and a part-time teacher from 1961). This was an important moment in the development of an objective type of realism within British art. It was a moment of renewed engagement with life painting which dispensed with an idealised and refined approach, and emphasised observation and probity in an attempt to record the elusive character of appearance, with little preoccupation for style and method. Nonetheless, the intense perceptual enquiry of the subject portrayed did not aim to objectify the sitter, but rather to solicit and record a deep engagement with another human being. Dower’s portrait of George is both the record of an intense perceptive act and the exploration of another’s individuality. Dower was pleased with the painting, which she and others felt encapsulated George’s good-natured personality (Dower, correspondence with Tate curator Elena Crippa, 11 September 2019).

Further reading
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, vol.I.

Elena Crippa
October 2019

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