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"Melancholy Negro" Oil on Board after Glyn Philpot

A late 20th century oil on board painting after the original ” Melancholy Negro by Glyn Philpot. Signed D.Grant , but very unlikely to be by the artist Duncan Grant.

Primarily known as a portrait painter, Glyn Warren Philpot (1884–1937) received great recognition during his lifetime. In 1913 he won first prize at the Carnegie International competition in Pittsburgh, he was elected a Royal Academician in 1923, and in 1930 he had a one-man exhibition at the Venice Biennale. However, Philpot’s reputation declined temporarily when his early and more traditional style changed. Responding to the new tendencies in modern European painting, and exploring a visual language that expressed his personal concerns, including his religious belief and homosexuality, Philpot’s aesthetics became ever more singular and distinctive.

Living at a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence, Philpot was never explicit about his sexuality.

Shortly after his death, Philpot was accorded a retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1938, but his fame waned after the Second World War and his work became increasingly marginalised within British art history until a retrospective National Portrait Gallery in 1984. This is due perhaps to the difficulty of classifying an artist whose painterly styles are so various and whose subjects are suggestive and ambivalent, lacking affiliation with other English modernists. Outside his portraiture, the underlying interest in the male body displayed in his work was rarely analysed and it is only since the 2000s that the theme of homosexuality is being properly acknowledged. In 2017, Brighton Museum and Art Gallery opened a retrospective display of Philpot’s work in the context of the many LGBTQ exhibitions and events across the museum, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK.

In Melancholy Negro (1936), Henry Thomas’s long torso and limbs are accentuated and the tilt of the head and the open arms and hands suggest a passive gentleness, the gold background accentuating the sensual rendering of the model’s skin. The blue strip at the left gives depth to the painting and makes solid the figure in space. This feminised, languorous portrayal of a black male hints at Philpot seeing black men as ‘other’, onto which he could project a coded homoeroticism otherwise difficult in the censorial society of the 1930s.

Living at a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence, Philpot was never explicit about his sexuality. He had a long relationship with Vivian Forbes whom he had met in the Royal Fusiliers around 1914 and from 1923 to 1935 they intermittently shared a home and studio at Lansdowne House in London. Forbes had been a businessman in Egypt but, encouraged by Philpot, he became an artist, exhibiting at the Royal Academy and elsewhere throughout the 1920s. During the 1930s Philpot suffered from high blood pressure and breathing difficulties and he spent the summer of 1937 on convalescence in France with Forbes. On 18th December that year, Philpot collapsed suddenly in London and died of a brain haemorrhage. Forbes committed suicide the following day.

Reference number



Height: 75cm (29.5 inches)
Width: 64cm (25.2 inches)

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