Sydney Starr

Study in Blue and Grey


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Sydney Starr 1857–1925
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1905 × 1073 mm
frame: 2010 × 1170 × 90 mm
Presented by F. Howard 1934

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The sitter for this painting is unidentified, and the title suggests Starr’s focus is colour and tone. An early reviewer said it ‘scarcely calls for comment except from its reticence and a certain sense of quiet harmony.’ Starr was a pupil at the Slade School in London in its early years. He was one of the chief exhibitors at the ‘London Impressionists’ exhibition of 1889. In 1892 he emigrated to the United States, and became a successful painter and decorative designer in New York.

Gallery label, October 2020

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Catalogue entry


Inscr. ‘Starr’ b.l.
Canvas, 75×42 1/4 (190·5×107).
Presented by Francis Howard 1934.
Coll: Mrs Cyprian Williams 1891; D. Croal Thomson, who acquired it some time during the 1920s, sold Christie's, 21 December 1933 (77), as ‘A Study in Grey’, bt. F. Howard.
Exh: N.E.A.C., November–December 1891 (44).

The artist exhibited at least four female portraits at the N.E.A.C. between 1890 and April 1892, the year in which he left for the U.S.A. The Tate picture, sometimes known simply as ‘Portrait of a Lady’, can be identified with the N.E.A.C. exhibit of 1891 on the basis of Press reviews of the exhibition which contain descriptions of this work. Thus the reviewer of the Daily Telegraph, 10 December 1891, wrote: ‘A whole-length, life-size portrait of a lady standing, looking over her shoulder, “Study in Blue and Grey”, scarcely calls for comment except from its reticence and a certain sense of quiet harmony.’ Other critics note that the subject is in grey walking attire and set against a dark blue background. The conscious imitation of Whistler, both in style and choice of title, is also remarked upon.The sitter remains unidentified, but a clue may be given by the fact that the portrait was lent to the N.E.A.C. by Mrs Cyprian Williams (see P. Wilson Steer, N04422, ‘Mrs Cyprian Williams and her two little girls’). It is just possible that Mrs Williams was the subject, as a comparison with the Wilson Steer portrait reveals certain similarities of feature between the two.

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

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