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During the 1920s Philpot was a highly successful figure in the British art establishment, celebrated for his portraits of society figures that included the likes of the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, the Duchess of Westminster, the opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, the ballet dancers Vaslav Nijinsky and Lydia Lopokova and the author Siegfried Sassoon. However, he also had a strong sensibility for the social outsider. This powerful portrait is of his West Indian manservant Henry Thomas, who had come from Jamaica as a stoker on a merchant vessel and missed his boat home. He was subsequently 'discovered' wandering in the National Gallery by Philpot's godson, the scenographer Oliver Messel, and introduced to the artist in 1929, presumably because of his good looks rather than his reliability and domestic skills which were, by all accounts, limited.
oil on canvas
H 52.5 x W 36.4 cm
bequeathed by Mrs R. Newgas