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Glyn Philpot wins Gold
[ Artist in Focus )
Art Martin, Director of Collections and Exhibitions at the Muskegon Museum of Art explores Glyn Philpot’s Carnegie Gold Medal winning, The Marble Worker.
Glyn Warren Philpot painted The Marble Worker in 1911, just seven years after his first showing at the Royal Academy in 1904. The painting was exhibited in the 1913 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for which Philpot won the 1st Prize and Gold Medal. Raymond Wyer, the Director of the Hackley Art Gallery (now the Muskegon Museum of Art) purchased The Marble Worker directly from the Carnegie Institute in 1913. The painting would return to the Carnegie in 1935, for their Prize Awards Exhibition.
What was the Carnegie Prize?
The Carnegie Prize was founded in 1896 and is an international art prize awarded by the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There were originally three prizes with the first prize being given to the best painting in the first annual exhibition of the museum. The prize was $1500 together with the Tiffany & Co. designed, Carnegie Gold Medal of Honor.
Raymond Wyer was the founding director of the Hackley Art Gallery and came to Muskegon, Michigan, by way of Chicago, where he managed the Chicago offices of art dealer Moulton and Ricketts. Wyer joined the Hackley Gallery in 1912, making The Marble Worker one of his earliest acquisitions. From Wyer’s writings, we know he was particularly interested in the works of young British painters and from his time at Moulton and Ricketts was immersed in the contemporary art market in the U.S. While Wyer left no contemporary notes on his acquisition of Philpot’s work, it is reasonable to speculate that a prize winning painting by a contemporary British artist would have been greatly appealing to Wyer’s interests.
Wyer included an illustration of the Philpot in his July 1913 issue of Aesthetics, a quarterly volume of art criticism and museum news. At the time, he provided no additional commentary on the painting. In 1914, the painting was illustrated in Wyer’s book An Art Museum: Its Concept and Conduct, again with no commentary. It was not until the April-July 1916 volume of Aesthetics that Wyer would comment on The Marble Worker, accompanying its illustration with a very short note: A fine bit of subtle painting – rich in tone and color, but somewhat academical [sic] and uninspired. Such faint praise apparently had little impact on the public impression of the painting, as it was reproduced by Yale University Press in the 1926 volume of The Pageant of America: A Pictorial History of the United States.
The Marble Worker is reflective of Philpot’s academic training, depicting a singular, posed figure painted in a classical manner. The colors are soft, though the dark pink block that fills the left side of the composition and the yellows of the skin are quite vibrant. Philpot was a gay man, and his paintings are noted for their often sensuous, beautiful male subjects. The Marble Worker certainly fits this idea. The man is shown at rest but is actively twisting, accentuating the turn of his hip in a manner similar to the various nymphs and goddesses that populate romantic and symbolist paintings of the era. His slightly downturned eyes are dark and heavily lashed and his full, reddish lips (which mimic the color of the background) are held in a charming, lopsided grin. His state of partial undress, with hints of flesh below the waistline, emphasize the erotic nature of his expression. The warm skin is contrasted by the cool black of the marble, while the deep shadows that fall across his right arm and shoulder reveal the repeated heat of the pink tones. The cumulative effect of pose, expression, and colouration creates a subtly mysterious, erotic, and emotionally resonant impact, no doubt a central reason for its prize winning status in 1913.
The painting is not without its flaws, both in drafting and in the handling of the paint. The figure’s left eye is clumsy, notably out of alignment with the other features and oddly flat in its rendering. None of the lines of the marble block maintain their direction as they pass behind the figure, nor do they hold a traditional academic consistency of perspective. The worker’s face and left arm are thickly and carefully modeled, with visible layering of paint and cross contouring. Through the torso, Philpot’s attention to structure and modeling softens noticeably. Within the marble block, details are reduced to a shorthand of long and rapid brush strokes and the background, while textured with brush mark and color, is flat, lending no space to the illusory mass of the figure.
As Philpot is reexamined, and his queer themes and Black sitters are seen in a more receptive context, The Marble Worker stands as a fine – and award winning – example of the artist’s career.
The Marble Worker is part of the collection of the Muskegon Museum of Art, Michigan. If you would like to see more examples of Philpot’s work, head over to our exhibition page Glyn Philpot: Flesh and Spirit.