Glyn Philpot 1884 – 1937 Secrets, Sensuality, and the Poet

I am lucky enough to possess a 1927 illustrated catalogue from the, Royal Academy which I randomly started to flick through recently.  I came across a painting of Lady Henry Mond, wife of a politician. The painting caught my eye, so I looked up the artist.

English artist Glyn Warren Philpot was a well-known society painter of that time. Born in Clapham,London he trained at the Lambeth School of Art before going to Paris to study at the Acedémie Julien.  He was influenced by the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood evident in his early works Weeping Venus and the Mermaid.

Although brought up as a Baptist he later converted to Catholicism. Strong in faith, though conflicting with his belief, he was a homosexual, this was a time for secrets and sensitive issues.

He first exhibited at the RA in 1904 and went on to earn a comfortable income from portraiture, painting between ten or twelve commissions per year giving him the opportunity to travel around Europe North Africa and America. His style transcends and we see a marked change in his work. As he begins to accept his homosexuality, He develops an interest in the male nude and moves away from commercial work to subject matter that reflects his concerns and contradictions.

Two of his works are rejected and banned by the Royal Academy yet in my own opinion some of his best works were yet to come.

In 1917 he meets his long-time partner, soldier, poet and aspiring artist Vivian Forbes whilst training in Aldershot. It is said that Vivian Forbes expressed jealousy over the friends of Philpot but without doubt the two were inseparable. Philpot’s demise in popularity has an effect on his financial status.

In 1937 Glyn Philpot dies unexpectedly from a stroke and five days later grief-stricken and with a broken heart, Vivian Forbes takes his own life.

I have tried to find poems that were written by Vivian Forbes as I have read, they were dedicated to Glyn Philpot, regrettably, I have not been able to find any published.

Wartime poet and writer Siegfried Sassoon’s tribute to Glyn Philpot

“His own existence was one that consisted largely in an ultra-refined appreciation of beautiful objects. He had what might be called a still-life temperament; his eyes delighted not so much in the living realities of nature as in the richness and elegance of things contrived by human handiwork. This was shown in his paintings of silks, velvets and brocades, and in anything which evoked his sensuous joy in surface qualities and harmonious arrangements of colour. Too subtle and fine to be accused of preciosity, his taste was superbly artificial. The interior environment he had devised for himself was a deliberately fastidious denial of war-time conditions, a delicate defence against the violence and ugly destruction which dominated the outside world.”

Inspiration taken from the life and work of the artist Glyn Philpot 1884 to 1937

The chance to voice deep thoughts wrapped in wisdom, waiting for exposure, I listen, depicting the silence as caution takes over, and I am once a child obeying her teacher. I sit opposite you with an easel between us, you with brushes delicately poised for action and me, a lady of society. I am sincerely nobody, apart from how society presents me, hands laid demurely and pink across my lap. I position myself on a floor of ruffled silk. I am required to say nothing.

Our conversation is silent but waiting on chance. The chance to express, I contain my words and study your eyes as they slowly blink to warn me you are entering a zone of creativity and I must remain still. I lower my eyes as requested lifting them cautiously to catch your gaze in a brief but mischievous moment taken from my youth.

We transcend and images form. To set the stage you must study the scene. Your attire, I note, worn on tradition reflects the importance of texture.

Theatrical painted screens placed behind me. Who am I to be created amidst this colour? To be adorned over some fireplace or at the top of the stairs. You do not know me at all I confidently assume.

Your starched white collar holds your head to attention and keeps you in a world of conformity. You on one side and an image of me on the other.

Rosetti runs a finger under my hair and sweeps it to the back of my neck, he lifts my chin. You see him clearly, his ghostly presence fussing with the minor detail. But my chin is defiant which you require for the scene to tell your story. I feel your gratitude and respect to his openness.

I think of you as a man fighting the world and squeezing in your anger that aches in the depths of all your reasoning.  A secret you do not wish to hold and yet must keep silent and free from fear.  It burns and festers inside you then dripping out from a paint brush loaded and heavy, you attempt to tell your story, the intimate details with no blurred lines. It is between you and God, only God to beg for forgiveness – Hail Mary. Speak out loud! If only.

We pay your bills but do not speak for you or of you, only in the dimly lit dining rooms of country houses.  I maybe the wife of a politician, depicted on canvas and silenced by her lack of words but I could caress you and let you cry into my shoulder. I sense you need it however distasteful you would find my caresses.

You gesture me to lean forward slightly, when the voice of a young man cries out in the distance.  There is frustration in his voice as he calls out your name. You breathe and smile, and I see love in an instant as your eyes fight to contain emotion. You are warmly amused.

You turn back to colour, it is warm and golden, and you start to create what you feel.  Without your vision we are a cold blank canvas. Without it we would all be empty and lost in direction. Who has the right to deny love which colour your thoughts by heaven above?

Thank God for art and colour and paint and cold blank spaces to fill our hearts. Thanks to all who can see heaven.

I ponder the question. Did you know the strength of love when you met your soldier? How misplaced you must have felt in the bland and brutal colours of war. Where life had no value amongst your God and Glory.

Did you use me to bring what they call respectability into your world of secrecy? that through no fault of your own you have to search a way of explaining yourself through paint, glaze and sculpture? You ask me for a second time to lower my gaze. Our eyes refuse to meet, yet I envy your world of love and passion, your delight in the richness of elegance that only wraps me in chains. You see what I cannot feel, and feel what I cannot see, and I am in sorrow hoping that one day we can both escape that which keeps us in silence.

Lauren Staton Thoughts of the artists sitter.