Augustus John OM

Madame Suggia


Not on display

Augustus John OM 1878–1961
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1867 × 1651 mm
Presented by Lord Duveen through the Art Fund 1925

Display caption

Guilhermina Suggia Was Portuguese, but lived in London from 1914. She was a well-known musician, particularly because a female cello soloist was then a rarity. The portrait was begun for the newspaper proprietor Edward Hudson, who had given Suggia the Montagnana cello that she plays. However the commission lapsed, and John continued the painting for himself. He started again twice, each time choosing a dress of a different colour, a larger canvas and a pose in more extreme profile.
This has always been thought among the best of John's portraits, for its convincing scale, the accord between design and colour, and its finish.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

N04093 MADAME SUGGIA 1920–3
Not inscribed.
Canvas, 73 1/2×65 (186×165).
Presented by Lord Duveen through the National Art-Collections Fund 1925.
Coll: William P. Clyde, Jr., New York, 1923.
Exh: Alpine Club Gallery, March 1923 (12); Scott and Fowles, New York, 1924; International Exhibition, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1924 (224, repr.), and Philadelphia, Cleveland, Washington and Michigan, 1924.
Lit: Mme Suggia, ‘Sitting for Augustus John’ in Weekly Despatch, 8 April 1923, repr.; Charles Johnson, English Painting from the Seventeenth Century to the Present Day, 1932, pp.307–8; Mary Chamot, Modern Painting in England, 1937, p.58.
Repr: Studio, LXXXVIII, 1924, p.54; Apollo, XVIII, 1933, p.261 (in colour); Rothenstein, 1944, pl.27.

Madame Suggia (1888–1950) was a famous Portuguese 'cellist. She studied at Leipzig, where she made her début, and later under the other great Iberian 'cellist, Casals. She was a frequent visitor to Great Britain, her last appearance being in 1949.

This picture, begun at the suggestion of Edward Hudson, was painted in the artist's studio in Mallord Street, Chelsea, and is perhaps John's most famous painting. Attempts were made to buy it for the nation when it was first exhibited and there was great consternation when it was sold to America, where it remained until Lord Duveen bought it and presented it to the National Collection. It gained the First Prize at the Carnegie Institute in 1924.

This picture is the second of two portraits of Mme Suggia; the first, in which the 'cellist wears a gown of blue sequins and which was three-quarters the size of the Tate Gallery portrait, was abandoned because it was not large enough. A sketch in charcoal and grey and brown oil on canvas, 56 1/4×41 1/4 in., was sold from the artist's studio, Christie's, 20 July 1962 (150); only the head is finished in any detail.

Mme Suggia wrote that John always chose a bright day for the sittings. ‘I played Bach chiefly because, being classical music, it suited with the attitude required by the artist.’ Three years elapsed before the portrait was finished and over seventy sittings were said to have been required. John did a great deal of repainting in this picture, especially in the positioning of the 'cellist's right arm. The colour of Mme Suggia's gown caused the artist much trouble; during the execution John changed the colour from old gold to white and then finally to the present wine red. The artist had intended exhibiting ‘Madame Suggia’ in the R.A. of 1922, but presumably the portrait was not finished in time.

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

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