The Little Dancer
Oil on canvas; signed.
56 x 45 inches
Daisy Philpot records, in her handwritten catalogue of her brother’ paintings, that the painting was executed at 33 Tite Street, Chelsea; she is a particularly reliable source in this instance, as she sat for the figure of the mother (along with her niece). Philpot had leased a studio in Tite Street since 1910, and at the end of the First World War transferred to no. 33, which had been built as a block of studios in 1880-1. There he had as a neighbour John Singer Sargent, who since 1886 had used a studio which had been occupied by Whistler in 1881-4 (D. Cox, The Street of Wonderful Possibilities: Whistler, Wilde & Sargent in Tite Street, London, 2015, pp. 232-8). There are reminiscences of both in this painting, as there are of Manet and Velázquez, two painters for whom Philpot shared an admiration with Sargent. Manet, Sargent and Velázquez are all mentioned as influences, along with that (at an early stage) of Charles Shannon, by P.G. Konody in his analysis of Philpot’s work published in September 1923. Konody goes on to observe that ‘Philpot’s style is derived from the old masters; his vision is modern. His worship of all that is best in tradition never makes him lose touch with life ….. Lately he has obtained particularly happy results from the use of thin paint over heavy white priming, a method which he used … certainly for the charming “Little Dancer” at this year’s Royal Academy’.
1923 was a particularly opportune moment for an assessment of Philpot’s career. He had established a significant reputation in his twenties with Manuelito of 1909 (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Sewter, pl. 12) and La Zarzarrosa of 1910-11 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; Gibson, op. cit., no. 14). His career having been interrupted by the First World War, 1923 marked a new peak, with his first one man exhibition since 1910 (at the Grosvenor Gallery), following his election to the Royal Academy, as the youngest serving Academician.
According to Daisy Philpot’s notes, at or after the Royal Academy exhibition, the painting was ‘Purchased by ?’ and then ‘Exhibited at the Winter Exhibition [of Paintings & Drawings by Contemporary British Artists] of the Grosvenor Gallery 51A New Bond St 1923.’ Due to have been included in that, along with The Repose on the Flight into Egypt now in Tate, it was replaced as no. 15 in the catalogue by L’Après-Midi Tunisien.
Daisy Philpot also records that the painting was 'believed to have been sent to France after purchase’. This has proved to be correct, as the painting has re-emerged from the collection of the Lebaudy family of Paris, having either been acquired by Pierre Lebaudy (1865-1929) for his house on the site of what is now 15 Avenue Foch, or by his brother Paul Lebaudy (1858-1937), who built a house on the corner of the rue François Ier and of 40 avenue Georges V.
The Lebaudy brothers, Paul and Pierre, were of the wealthy family that owned a sugar refinery in Moisson, France. They also built semi-rigid airships there, which they sold to the military. Their cousin Jacques was interesting: he attempted, with 400 hired soldiers and machine guns, to establish a new nation in Morocco in 1903, that he called The Empire of the Sahara, and then retired to the Savoy in London where the orchestra would play his national anthem whilst he dined under an imperial purple canopy. After moving to New York he was committed to an asylum by his wife, and on his release tried several times to kill her, but she got in first, murdering him in 1919. A grand jury refused to indict her.