F.E. McWilliam

Portrait Bust of Isaac Wolfson


Not on display

F.E. McWilliam 1909–1992
Unconfirmed: 440 × 480 × 305 mm
Presented by the executors of the artist's estate 1992

Display caption

McWilliam entered the Slade School of Art in 1928 where he met Henry Moore, who became a life-long friend. In the mid-1930s McWilliam lived and worked in Hampstead and was part of the avant-garde group of London artists. He was deeply impressed by the International Surrealist Exhibition of 1936. Although the subjects of McWilliam's sculptures were mostly drawn from his imagination, he periodically accepted commissions for traditional portrait sculpture. This 'Portrait Bust of Isaac Wolfson' is of particular relevance to the Tate Gallery. Wolfson (1897-1991) set up a Foundation to advance health, education and youth activities and was a major donor to the Tate Gallery, Liverpool.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Technique and condition

Ferrers’ Three Ladies of the Leman Family is signed with dark paint in the lower right corner: ‘1728/ Benj:Ferrers:Pinx’. The support is composed of two pieces of plainly woven linen canvas, the vertical join running 14 centimetres from the left edge. The back of the join is now obscured by a lining canvas, which probably dates from the early-mid twentieth century. The narrow additional piece is of a coarser weave than the other. The ground on the larger piece is in two layers, the first a thick coat of pinkish beige paint comprising of a mixture of white lead, black, red ochre and yellow ochre. When dry this layer was covered with a slightly thinner coat of warm grey made up of white lead, black and reds. Both layers appear to be bound in oil. On the smaller piece there is only one layer of grey, mixed from white lead, charcoal black and various ochreous pigments.

There is no visible evidence of underdrawing. The paint is largely opaque and was applied wet-in-wet in a direct manner with small brushes. As in most examples of the Hudson style of painting, brushwork is visible on the silvery folds in the drapery but otherwise is not emphatic, generally used to reinforce the main contours of each form. The blue of the sky is Prussian blue mixed with white lead. The greens are composed of varying amounts of terre verte, yellow ochre, red ochre and Prussian blue.

The painting is in very good condition overall. Although it does exhibits a network of sharp edged age cracks that are typically found on paintings of this period of the period. On arrival at the Tate the painting was cleaned to remove a thick layer of discoloured varnish and a new, thin coat of Paraloid B72 varnish was applied.

Rica Jones
November 2001

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