Sunday 6 December 2020

Young Osbert

 Born on this day in 1892 was the prolific writer, connoisseur and one-time avant-gardiste Osbert Sitwell. At the age of seven, he had the good fortune to be immortalised by John Singer Sargent in the grand family portrait above, painted in 1900. Osbert, in a sailor suit, is at bottom right, with his younger brother Sacheverell still in his long-clothes and curls. The dog is the family pug, who spent much of the long sitting trying to bite the children. Standing to the left, with her father, Sir George, is Edith, in a red dress, and in white, entirely dominating the pictorial space, is her mother, Lady Ida. 
  Everything about this picture (as Edith delighted in pointing out) is faked. The setting is not the Sitwells' ancestral seat, but Sargent's large studio on Tite Street, Chelsea. The carefully chosen props were brought down from Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire, the family home, and arranged in the studio to give the desired effect. Sir George was no horseman, and the riding boots are intended to give the impression of the country squire. Lady Ida is shown, as Edith recalled, 'arranging, with one prettily shaped, flaccid, entirely useless hand, red anemones in a silver bowl (she never arranged flowers and in any case it would have been a curious occupation for one wearing a ball-dress, even if, at the same time, she wore a hat) ... I was white with fury and contempt, and indignant that my father held me in what he thought was a tender paternal embrace.' Happy families.
  Lady Ida was famous for her straight-nosed Grecian profile, whereas Edith's nose was slightly bent. Sir George, a man not famous for his tact or sensitivity, pointed this out to Sargent, who – having already had more than enough of Sir George's endless interventions – responded by painting Edith's nose straight and introducing a slight kink to Sir George's. 

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