Sold on a society portrait by Ambrose McEvoy

An early 20th century portrait, in the family of the sitter since it was painted, sold to an online bidder for £35,000 earlier this month

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Miss Violet Henry by Ambrose McEvoy, 1918 - £35,000 at Dreweatts.

Critics were not always kind to the British ‘society’ artist Ambrose McEvoy (1878-1927). One wag writing during the First World War joked that at a time of sugar shortage McEvoy’s sometimes saccharine portraits were ‘a positive asset to the nation’. 

This 4ft 2in x 3ft 4in (1.27 x 1.01m) oil on canvas portrait of Miss Violet Henry (1901-1976), offered for sale at Dreweatts in Newbury on March 19, was painted in 1918. The sitter was a typical McEvoy client. She was the daughter of Philip Solomon Henry (1863-1933), an Australian copper and coffee trader who later lived first in Paddington and then on a large estate in Asheville, North Carolina, she married Brigadier Hartley Alfred Macochie and lived in Somerset. 

McEvoy panted her standing at a mantelpiece, her reflection appearing in a mirror - a composition borrowed from Whistler's Symphony in White (1864). 

The picture has a long exhibition history. Commissioned as part of a series of portraits McEvoy painted to benefit the Red Cross that were shown at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1918, in 1920 it formed part of the McEvoy exhibition held by Duveen in New York that made the artist’s made reputation in the US. It was also pictured in John Rothenstein’s Modern English Painters: Sickert to Smith (1952). 

In the family since it was painted, it came for sale in Berkshire with modest expectations of £4000-6000 but its easy-on-the-eye subject and technique found many admirers. It sold to a buyer using at £35,000.

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