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Glyn Philpot: Artist at the Crossroads

Part 7: A welcome antidote to polite English society

Philpot’s life-long fascination with drawing black people also sets him apart as an artist who cooperated only partially with convention. Some of his depictions, such as Composition Study, invent an oriental setting in tune with the negrophilia cultivated by contemporary modernists. Like them, he perceived black people as a welcome antidote to polite English society, satisfying his own longing for exotic escape. Yet others, such as Portrait Head of a Man, convey dignity through their naturalistic focus on the model’s physiognomy.

Philpot shows us, not an archetypal African 'barbarian', but an individual, delineated with classical precision. His ability to combine traditional and modern references sets Philpot apart as an artist at the crossroads of traditions. Though always difficult to place, his work now demands reappraisal. Art and Architecture’s publication of over five hundred images from the Courtauld Collection comes as a timely reminder.

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