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Mary Adshead
(1904 - 1995)

Portrait of Marjorie Gertler, 1931

SKU: 9866

Oil on canvas

Signed and dated

39 ¼ x 30 in. (100 x 76 cm)

Size:
Height – 100cm
Width – 76cm

DESCRIPTION

Exhibited: 50/50; Fifty British Women Artists 1900 ‚Äì 1950, Worshipful Company of Mercers (3rd December 2018 – 23rd March, 2019); The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds (9th April, 2019 – 27th July, 2019).’For Real: British Realists from the 20s and 30s’, Museum MORE, Gorssel (September 15th, 2019 ‚Äì January 5th, 2020). 

Much in this painting is recognisable as Mary Adshead’s work: the careful

craftsmanship of the paint, the French inflexion in the simplified shapes

of trees and leaves, the hint of Neo-Victorianism in the setting and the

flatness typical of a decorative’ painter who specialised in murals. Other

things are different: it is a portrait of a known individual, a friend who

lived locally in Hampstead, and the mood is as sombre as the colours.

We know about Marjorie Hodgkinson chiefly for her part in the

life of her husband, the painter Mark Gertler (1891–1939), and as the

mother of his son, Luke Gertler. Their friendship and marriage were

not, like Gertler’s largely frustrated affair with his fellow student Dora

Carrington, a storm at sea but more a slowly advancing tide when, in

1929, Marjorie accompanied Mark to a sanatorium in Norfolk where

he went to stave off a relapse into TB. They were married secretly by

the British Consul on a trip to Paris in 1930, to avoid Gertler’s family

making objections to him marrying a gentile, and moved into a flat in

Kemplay Road, Hampstead. For a while, life was good to them, and

Luke was born in 1932, but Mark’s picture sales went flat and Marjorie’s

health declined.

When Mary Adshead painted the winter portrait, none of the later

crises ‚Äì culminating in Mark’s suicide ‚Äì could be foreseen. It is one of

her most eloquent works, an exercise in controlled colour, with a figure

elegantly but rather precariously poised in the act of turning towards us

with a face that carries foreboding.

Commentary by Alan Powers, writer, curator and teacher specialising in mid-twentieth-century British art,

architecture and design. His book Bauhaus Goes West: Modern Art and Design in Britain and America will

be published in 2019.

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THE ARTIST

Adshead, Mary

1904 – 1995

Mary Adshead studied at the Slade School of Fine Art (1920’24)
under Henry Tonks (1862’1937), who in 1924 selected her for a
mural commission at Highways boys’ club in Shadwell, working
with Rex Whistler (1905’1944). 

She became a prominent muralist, creating decorations for
both public and private spaces, including the British Pavilion at
the 1937 Paris International Exhibition. She also illustrated several
books, such as The Little Boy and His House by Stephen Bone
(1904’1958) (whom she married in 1929), and made designs for
London Transport and the Post Office. 

As a noteworthy female artist, Adshead exhibited frequently
at the WIAC from the mid ‘1930s, before serving on their
committee in 1951. Working at a time when expectations of
women were still largely confined to issues of domesticity, her
prodigious professional output was noteworthy. Her approach to
mural painting ‘ especially in her choice of subjects and her colourful
palette ‘ challenged the perceived divisions which determined that
public and private spaces should necessarily be treated differently. She
was the subject of a retrospective at Liverpool Art Gallery in 2005.

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