The Work of Gerald Leslie

Dramatic portraiture by Gerald Leslie reveals idealised beauty embodied by stately society figures and imagined women based on the attributes of his ex-wives.  The women in his paintings represent a fantasy of filmic and affluent femininity with standardised features as in much renaissance painting, clearly a heavy influence in Leslie’s work.  Their spiritual, dream-like state is emphasised by their backgrounds.  Delicately rendered imagined landscapes.  Totally unnatural, natural beauty.  Having won a travelling scholarship, the British artist was able to travel around Europe in 1913 enabling him to study the work of 15th Century artists from Leonardo da Vinci to Botticelli- strong influences in his later practice.  By 1920 his career as an etcher and portraitist was building and he began to earn a reputation as a society portrait painter.  Though intensely formal in terms of dress, the conventional pose of the sitter and the traditions of the genre, Leslie’s work has a magnetically dark and intriguing undertone which makes his work unique.  His subjects make eye contact with the viewer and all have a confident knowing expression as though silently communicating their attraction.  Having painted Marlene Dietrich and Merle Oberon among other stars, celebrities and members of high society, he was clearly drawn to iconic figures and their mysterious allure.  Leslie’s view of women seems much like that of a art collector amassing pictures.  His fascination with their appearance,  his marriages and his infamous and numerous affairs imply a less than liberal view of a woman’s place in his world although he is clearly a romantic and obsessive admirer.   Evident in his smooth, flawless rendering of porcelain skin, his elegant delineation of swan necks and skilful use of high contrast chiaroscuro all demonstrating his clear obsession with a specifically classical, refined and restrained vision of the female form and his notion of female psyche in relation to himself.   Leslie’s paintings, drawings and etchings reveal his view of glamour and escapism and are filtered according to his own desires.  Despite reflecting an antiquated view of femininity by today’s standards, his work is technically masterful, aesthetically beautiful and records a mood specific to its era, making his work historically and socially influential and resonant.

Portrait of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll circa 1931 by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst 1890-1978 (c) Richard Woodward (nephew); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation Gerald Leslie12 Gerald Leslie11 Gerald Leslie10 Gerald Leslie9 Gerald Leslie8 Gerald Leslie7 Gerald Leslie6 (c) Richard Woodward (nephew); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation Gerald Leslie4 Gerald Leslie3 (c) Richard Woodward (nephew); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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