Portrait of May Gillilan
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Frederick SANDYS

Portrait of May Gillilan

Stephen Ongpin Fine Art

Medium Coloured chalks and pencil, heightened with white, on pale green tinted paper

Dimension 37.7 x 28.5 cm (14⁷/₈ x 11¹/₄ inches)

Frederick Sandys was highly regarded in his day as a brilliant draughtsman, and indeed Rossetti once described him as ‘the greatest of all living draughtsmen’. He used coloured chalks for many of his formal portraits, which are characterized by a particular sensitivity and delicacy of touch. As Schoenherr has noted, Sandys was ‘the consummate draughtsman of portraits in coloured chalks…From his student days to the end of his life, the portrait in coloured chalks remained the one constant, his most characteristic mode of expression.’ The artist, who seems to have been short-sighted or myopic, needed to stand very close to his subjects, with the result that many of his portraits evoke an intense focus on the sitter.

Drawn in 1882, this fine portrait drawing was one of several works commissioned from Sandys by the sitter’s father William Gillilan (d.1925) of Kensington in London. Gillilan owned a number of late pictures by the artist, including The Tangled Skein of c.1870 (Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston upon Hull) and Poppies of 1898 (The National Trust, Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton), as well as a final version of Proud Maisie, dated 1902 (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa). He also commissioned portraits of his family from Sandys, of which the present sheet is the earliest in date. This drawing was originally created as a double portrait, incorporating a likeness of May Gillilan’s younger sister Winnie at the right of the composition, but was trimmed at the right and bottom edges and reduced to a single portrait sometime between 1997 and 1998. The drawing originally hung in the dining room of the Gillilan home at 6 Palace Gate in Kensington, where it is recorded in a photograph taken in May 1891. Sandys also produced drawn and painted portraits of William Gillilan in 1886 and his wife Mary in 1885, as well as a drawing in coloured chalks of their third and youngest daughter Christabel in 1887.

Medium: Coloured chalks and pencil, heightened with white, on pale green tinted paper

Signature: Signed F. Sandys in pencil on part of the original sheet, cut out and pasted onto the reverse of the frame.

Dimension: 37.7 x 28.5 cm (14⁷/₈ x 11¹/₄ inches)

Provenance: Commissioned from the artist by the sitter’s father, William Gillilan, Kensington, London
Thence by descent
Anonymous sale, Salisbury, Woolley and Wallis, 15 April 1996, lot 85
Anonymous sale, London, Bonhams Knightsbridge, 19 March 1997, lot 106
The Maas Gallery, London, in 1998
Private collection.

Literature: Betty Elzea, Frederick Sandys 1829-1904: A Catalogue Raisonné, Woodbridge, 2001, pp.267-268, no.4.27.

Exhibition: London, Maas Gallery, British Pictures (1840-1940), 1998, no.39.

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