In an earlier post, we described a portrait of Evelyn Waugh as a child that was the subject of an auction sale. This included several items from the Faringdon Estate, former home of Lord Berners and his heir Robert Heber-Percy. We have now received comments from the buyer of the portrait, Peter Ellis, who operates a bookstore at 18 Cecil Court, London WC2. He has researched several points raised in our post relating to the portrait’s attribution and subject matter and has kindly drafted the results as a comment. Unfortunately, because original story was dated 4 April 2018, the receipt of the comment was delayed by the spam filters that block comments on posts more than 60 days old. We regret any inconvenience to Mr Ellis that may have been caused by this delay:
As the current owner of lot 19 I would like to take issue with several points raised by Mr Manley. I have examined Frederick Etchells’ handwriting on papers held at King’s College, Cambridge, and can confirm that it resembles in all respects that on the front of the picture in question. ‘T. Chesell’ is not a ‘code’ for Etchells, it is a straightforward anagram (no ‘perhaps’ about it). Mr Manley states, ‘It is not obvious, however, why the inscription on the front (including the identification of the subject of the portrait) is entitled to any greater credibility than that on the reverse’. Why, one wonders, should the inscription be entitled to any lesser credibility? The picture is not, strictly speaking, a ‘portrait’ (Etchells calls it a ‘rendering’). It is a caricature and, as such , should not be expected to resemble any particular photos of Waugh ‘as a child (or adult for that matter)’. I can see that any member of the Waugh Society might feel aggrieved that Waugh should be subjected to what is, undoubtedly, a pretty cruel depiction, but that is no reason to doubt the artist’s word on the matter. Finally, I should like to point out that the Bloomsbury art dealers Austin Desmond currently have in stock a painting by Etchells, not a caricature but unmistakably similar in execution to the one we are discussing.
“Lot 19” was described in the sale catalogue as:
Portrait of Evelyn Waugh as a child, wearing a pale blue coat inscribed ‘Unfinished Rendering of/Evelyn Waugh at a/youthful age/T.C./ T. Chesell (upper left and right corners); inscribed on the reverse; pencil, watercolour, bodycolour and chalk on card.