Dating from c.1936, The Red Skirt is one of three oil on canvas portraits by Dame Ethel Walker depicting the same young woman dressed in a long red skirt and dark jacket. A lesbian artist, Walker is best known for her portraits of women and girls that celebrate the female form. She preferred her models to be as ‘natural’ as possible, removing all forms of adornment such as make-up and jewellery, to allow her to focus on an individual’s expression and temperament.
The straightforward title of the painting, combined with the woman’s casual dress and relaxed pose, create an unusually candid portrait that broke with convention of late Victorian artists of Walker’s generation. Traditionally, portraitists like John Singer Sargent, and slightly later, Augustus John, named their sitters and represented them in more elaborate formal attire. Walker favoured the use of generic titles and informal poses more commonly used by late 19th-century French artists, such as Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet. The loose, open brushwork of Walker’s painting similarly reveals the influence of Impressionist techniques, as well as that of the work of her teacher, Walter Richard Sickert, a former pupil of James McNeill Whistler and a disciple of Degas.
With Agnew’s Gallery, London by 1950; from whom purchased by the Honourable Mrs Wood (neice of Lord Bryce, HM Ambassador to Washington 1907-13); by whom presented to the Ministry of Works for the Ambassador's Residence, Washington
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