Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Jane Austen in Beige, Autumn 1930s

Wilfred Gabriel de Glehn (1870-1951)

Portrait of Jane Austen in Beige, Autumn, Wilfred Gabriel de Glehn
Oil and Canvas
20th Century
36 x 24 inches (91.4cm x 61cm)
Spanierman Gallery, New York.
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Wilfred Gabriel de Glehn is regarded as one of the most important British Impressionist painters working in late nineteenth/early twentieth century England.

Wilfred Gabriel von Glehn was born in South London to a father of Baltic descent (changing his name during the First World War to the more anglicised ‘De Glehn’) and was educated at Brighton College. During the early 1890s de Glehn went to Paris where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under the symbolist painter Gustave Moreau (1826-98) whilst witnessing first-hand the evolving avant-garde impressionist movement. During these years de Glehn befriended artists such as Edwin Austin Abbey (1852-1911) and John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), assisting them with the series of murals commissioned by Boston Public Library which were completed in 1895. De Glehn and Sargent remained life-long friends and frequently travelled together on painting expeditions around the continent, immortalised, rather touchingly, in Sargents painting of de Glehn with his wife painting titled: The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, 1907 [The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois].

After spending six years training in Paris, de Glehn returned to England, taking lodgings in St Leonard’s Studios in Chelsea, and exhibiting his first portrait Mona at the Royal Academy in 1896. Although de Glehn’s initial attempts at portraiture received luke-warm response in the press – one reporter for The Times claiming them to be ‘…to summary and chic’ – he pursued this course with vigour. By the thirties, when the present work was painted, de Glehn’s style was elegant yet fast-paced and, as with all his works, display a preoccupation with the effects of light as exemplified in the present work.

The colour beige was highly popular during the 1930s and was broadly adopted by the House of Chanel as their signature shade. A study of Vogue Magazine during this period reveals a strong demand for beige clothing as well as this style of coat, tied at the front in a knot and known, when produced in fur, as a ‘Swagger Coat’. The intended prominence of the colour by the artist is reinforced through an inscription on the reverse which reads; ‘Jane Austen/ in beige + Hat’. Any further clues to the sitter’s identity are difficult to glean but she appears to have modelled for de Glehn numerous times, most notably for his 1934 Royal Academy exhibit in which Jane is shown full-length wearing a long-sleeved magenta velvet gown.
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