This painting can be found in the National Portrait Gallery in London and shows the celebrated composer, Sir William Walton in 1948 in Capri where he was recovering from jaundice. Its atmosphere suggests recuperation and the date also reminds us that Europe was slowly convalescing from the devastation of war. Walton was to permanently settle the following year on Ischia, a volcanic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea some 30 km from Naples, of which it is a province. The painting with its remarkable diagonal composition and repeated dynamic lines is reminiscent of Wyndham Lewis, who was a significant influence on Ayrton and whose portrait he was to paint, a few years later in 1955; this is discussed at this link- http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/ayrton-portrait-of-wyndham-lewis-t07133. It is perhaps interesting to compare Wyndham Lewis’s well-known portrait of Ezra Pound with Ayrton’s Walton. The subject in the latter case looking a good deal more awake and serenely pondering the pleasures of the view and the prospects of reloading his pipe from the tobacco pouch.
In the portrait, Walton almost seems to be couched against the rocky promontory which cascades down to the sea-where the line of the cliff appears submerged rather than reflected by the water surface. The pale tones in grey, purple, reds and blues convey serenity to the composition. The repeated folds and linear motif however add a contrasting energy to the figure that is captured as though by a camera and achieve a monumental charm at what might otherwise not seem a particularly significant moment. The subject has a contemplative gaze which will be prolonged, indeed deepened by the next twist from the “fragrant weed”. The glass, decanter and bill/slip of paper seem to encourage the viewer to share into his own pensive mood.
Ayrton’s body of work at the Tate can be viewed as a slideshow at: – http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/michael-ayrton-681
The Oxford Companion to Western Art, says this about English Neo-Romanticism, the movement which both Ayrton and as we shall see Minton both belonged, “Never more than loosely affiliated, its painters took inspiration from the early 19th-century landscapists: from SAMUEL PALMER and his circle at Shoreham, and from TURNER. They were also influenced by French post-CUBIST developments during the 1930s. The beginnings of the movement were dominated by GRAHAM SUTHERLAND and PAUL NASH, and, to an extent, by JOHN PIPER. Their conception of the anthropomorphic potential of natural landscapes and the objects within them had a powerful influence on the younger generation of artists who became popular in the early 1940s, developing a style of agonized and sinister landscape very different from their early exemplars. MICHAEL AYRTON, JOHN MINTON, and John Craxton (1922– ) were the most expressive and innovative of the painters involved; others who shared the concerns of the movement for a time included Keith Vaughan (1912–77) and the Scottish artists Robert Colquhoun (1914–62) and Robert MacBryde (1913–66).”
John Minton (1917- 57) was a talented but troubled teacher,painter and stage designer who trained at St John’s Wood School along with Ayrton who strongly influenced him. This period between 1935 and 1938 was a time when neo-romanticism seems to have flourished, again the Oxford Companion to Western Art writes of him, “British painter, graphic artist, and designer, born at Great Shelford (Cambs.). After studying in London at St John’s Wood School of Art, 1936–8, he spent a year in Paris, where he shared a studio with MICHAEL AYRTON (with whom he later collaborated on designs for John Gielgud’s production of Macbeth at the Piccadilly Theatre, London, in 1942). Among the artists whose work he saw in Paris, he was particularly influenced by the brooding sadness of Eugene Berman (1899–1972) (More information also at http://www.sullivangoss.com/eugene-berman/) and Pavel Tchelitchew (1898–1957). (There is a You–tube, in Italian at http://www.encyclopedia.com/video/aQpp6epASaQ-la-danza-delle-ombre-pavel.aspx) In 1941–3 he served in the Pioneer Corps, and after being released on medical grounds he had a studio in London at 77 Bedford Gardens (the house in which RobertColquhoun (1914–62), Robert MacBryde (1913–66), and Jankel Adler (1895–1949) lived), 1943–6. From 1946 to 1952 he lived with Keith Vaughan (1912–77). Minton was a leading exponent of NEO-ROMANTICISM and an influential figure through his teaching at Camberwell School of Art (1943–7), the Central School of Arts and Crafts (1947–8), and the Royal College of Art (1948–56).
He was extremely energetic, travelling widely and producing a large body of work as a painter (of portraits, landscapes, and figure compositions), book illustrator, and designer. After about 1950, however, his work went increasingly out of fashion. He made an effort to keep up with the times with subjects such as The Death of James Dean (1957; London, Tate), but stylistically he changed little. Minton was renowned for his charm and generosity, but he was also melancholic and troubled by self-doubt. He committed suicide with an overdose of drugs.”
It has recently come to my notice that Lucien Freud also painted John Minton in 1952.http://www.leninimports.com/lucian_freud_gallery_5.html and that Bratby painted at least two portraits, one of which, a watercolour sketch was up for sale at Bonhams in Jan 2011 see http://www.artvalue.com/auctionresult–bratby-john-randall-1928-1992-portrait-of-john-minton-2824129.htm and another was available at this year’s International Art Fair and is shown below.