Banting studied with Meninsky at Westerminster School of Art in 1921 and then in Paris. In 1925 he was associated with the
Bloomsbury Group and in 1927 he exhibited with the London Group. His early work was influenced by Picasso, Braque and Gris but he quickly evolved his own repertoire of forms and subjects: plants, bones, shells and feathers, often constructed into strange anamorphic figures bearing enigmatic titles not infrequently associated with music. The composition might refer to the classic early novel by Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire, The Sylph, (published anonymously in 1779) in which, desperate for a mentor to guide her through the morass of societal depravity, the heroine Julia Grenville relies on a man who, claiming to be her ‘sylph’ (anaerial being who knows her every thought and deed), sends her letters warning her against the lures of the city. Painted in 1934, and exhibited in 1938 at Storran Galleries (one of the three principal London dealers, the others being Wertheim and Cooling) this painting reverberates with Banting’s exposure to the Surrealism movement in Paris, where he met with André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Alberto Giacometti and René Crevel. It anticipates the style that Banting would showcase at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London (1936), New York (1936) and Paris (1938), and includes the amorphous, human-like shapes and disguised profile portraits that can be seen in many of his major works.