Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Colin Gill (1892-1940)   BIOGRAPHY

Study for ‘The Kerry Flute Player’, 1934
Framed (ref: 524)
Signed, inscribed with title and dated on recto; inscribed on verso: ‘Drawings and studies for The Defeat of the Danes by Colin Gill. Now Open Admission Free’
Pen and ink over pencil, on verso, pencil with crayon highlights, 23 1/4 x 16 3/4 in. (59 x 42.5 cm.)


Provenance: Sue Murray (née Lethbridge)

The Kerry Flute Player was exhibited in the 1934 Pittsburgh International, and thereafter acquired for the Carnegie Institute Permanent Collection (subsequently de-accessioned in 1979). According to the Carnegie Magazine, January 1935, the painting enjoyed ‘the unique distinction of being praised unanimously by the critics and admired enthusiastically by the public’ (vol. 8, no. 8, p. 247). The article continues:‘The picture was painted by the artist on a trip to the west of Ireland last summer. The model who posed for the flute player is an itinerant musician … his eyes closed as if in ecstasy at the sound of his own music while the girl, with eyes wide open, is completely absorbed in the magic notes of the flute. Both are indifferent to the approaching storm and the buffeting wind … There is a classic simplicity and grace in the long lines of the girl’s dress, shawl, folded hands, and slender feet.’

The model for this drawing was Sue Lethbridge, daughter of Mabel Lethbridge, a First World War heroine, whose portrait Gill had been commissioned to paint for the Imperial War Museum. Mabel Lethbridge and Gill became lovers for a time, Gill occupying the first floor of a magnificent studio in Tite Street, whilst Mabel, Sue and their butler occupied the ground floor. Gill became Sue’s guardian. This drawing was acquired directly from Sue Murray (née Lethbridge), who was eleven years old when she posed for The Kerry Flute Player.

The drawing was made on the reverse of an original poster design by Gill advertising an exhibition of his studies for The Defeat of the Danes, the  mural that Gill had completed for St Stephen’s Hall, Palace of Westminster, in 1927.

We are grateful to Sue Murray for assistance.

Colin Gill (1892-1940)

Decorative and genre painter, born in Bexley Heath, Kent. He was a cousin of the sculptor and printmaker Eric Gill. He studied at the Slade School, and in 1913 won a scholarship to the British School at Rome. His scholarship was interrupted by the First World War: he served in France 1915-18 and was appointed an Official War Artist. From 1922-25 he was a member of staff at the Royal College of Art. He died in South Africa in 1940, while working on a series of murals for the Magistrates Court in Johannesburg. His work is held in the Tate Gallery and the Imperial War Museum.

Gill can lay claim both to being the first painter to win a scholarship to the British School at Rome and to have produced its most iconic image: Allegory, 1921. He also started the fruitful tradition of scholars taking up residence in the small village of Anticoli Corrardo, just south of Rome, during the hot summer months. However, like many of the Rome Scholars who came after him, there is a sense that Gill never fulfilled the remarkable promise of his early work. After returning from Italy his paintings appear to be caught uncomfortably between two desires: on one hand, to continue in the nineteenth-century tradition in which he had been trained, and, on the other, to embrace something more contemporary and avant-garde. He was a keen photographer and also a novelist.

See all works by Colin Gill