Recently featured in the Tate Britain’s Queer British Art 1861-1967 exhibition in 2017, Edward Wolfe's portrait of Pat Nelson, dating from the 1930s, sold for the record-breaking price of £118,750* during our April 2021 Modern Made sale. With 1427 bidders from around the globe registered for the live online auction, the sale achieved a grand total of £1,184,437*.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Edward Wolfe came to London in 1916, studying at the Slade School of Art and Regents Street Polytechnic. By 1917 he had been invited to join the Omega Workshops by Roger Fry and Nina Hamnett where he painted and designed furniture in a bold Fauvist language, and was surrounded by artists sympathetic to the growing appreciation for modern French art in Britain. Wolfe recalled that it was under the growing influence of the Bloomsbury Group his ‘life really began’.
Wolfe became one of the first British artists to be enticed and influenced by the work of Matisse, Gauguin and Modigliani, becoming known as ‘England’s Matisse’, due to his painterly style and vibrant use of colour.
Recently featured in the Tate Britain’s Queer British Art 1861-1967 & A Model's Life, Spaces of Black Modernism exhibitions, Wolfe's Portrait of Pat Neilson is an wonderful example of his vibrant, penetrating portraits featuring his subtle and brash colour work, and complex use of line.
Included in Tate Britain's A Model's Life, Spaces of Black Modernism in 2014, the portrait explored the experiences and interactions of people from diverse ethnic backgrounds in London’s art world between the wars.
'Nelson came to Britain in 1937 to work as a valet in Wales. In about 1938 he was studying law in London as well as working as an artist's model for Wolfe and Duncan Grant. He became Duncan Grant's lover in the late 1930s. Following the outbreak of the Second World War he enlisted with the Pioneer Corps, was posted to France with the British Expeditionary Force and was injured and captured near Dunkirk. He was held in various prison camps, including Stalag 344, until his release in late 1944. On his return he resumed his friendship with Duncan Grant, and they would write to each other over the next 25 years until Nelson's death in 1963'.
- Tate Britain's A Model's Life, Spaces of Black Modernism
Featuring works from 1861–1967 relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) identities, Tate Britain's Queer British Art 1861–1967 marked the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England. Wolfe's portrait featured in the exhibition which explored how artists expressed themselves in a time when established assumptions about gender and sexuality were being questioned and transformed.
'Wolfe’s depiction of Nelson against the rich green background is exoticising and his pose invites the viewer to admire his body. Such objectification was typical of many depictions of black men from this time and reflects an uneven power dynamic, although Nelson’s friendship with members of the Bloomsbury group adds a level of complexity to the relationship between artist and sitter'.
- Queer British Art1861–1967, Tate Britain
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