John Denton Pinkstone French, 1st Earl of Ypres

1 portrait on display in Room 30 at the National Portrait Gallery

John Denton Pinkstone French, 1st Earl of Ypres, by John Singer Sargent, circa 1919-1922 - NPG 2654 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

John Denton Pinkstone French, 1st Earl of Ypres

by John Singer Sargent
oil on canvas, circa 1919-1922
21 1/2 in. x 15 1/2 in. (546 mm x 394 mm)
Given by Charles Cheers Wakefield, 1st Viscount Wakefield, 1934
Primary Collection
NPG 2654


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Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Portrait and landscape painter and muralist. Artist associated with 72 portraits, Sitter in 5 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Physical description

Head only, with head and eyes facing viewer.


Description

This work is one of a series of studies John Singer Sargent painted to prepare for his large group portrait, General Officers of World War I, which was commissioned by Sir Abraham ('Abe') Bailey and presented to the National Portrait Gallery, London in 1922. It is difficult to securely establish from surviving correspondence the dates and chronology of individual sittings, but a number of oil studies, this one included, are known to have been painted between 1919 and 1922.

In the final portrait, John French can be seen full-length, wearing a greatcoat and carrying his Field Marshal's baton. He is placed just off-centre to highlight his importance as one of two Commanders in Chief on the Western Front. Some have suggested that French appears rather unhappy though, in both his study and final portrait, possibly because he never recovered from his dismissal from the Western Front in 1915.

Here in the study, Sargent has chosen to depict only French's face and neck. Since the work is intended as preparation for the final piece, it appears that the artist has decided to use his limited time with the sitter to concentrate on capturing an individual likeness, rather than on representing the whole body. Sargent also completed full-length pencil studies of many of the figures, frequently annotating the works with the sitter's height and including notes to work out the relative poses, so perhaps he felt it unnecessary to spend time doing the same in oil. Apparently Sargent enjoyed painting the individual sitters, but was worried by the prospect and consequences of bringing them altogether in one group.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG 1954: General Officers of World War I (finished work)

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Events of 1919back to top

Current affairs

Sir John William Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown pilot the first successful non-stop transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland, flying 1980 miles in their modified Vickers Vimy bomber plane in just over 16 hours. Their achievement won them a £10,000 prize from the Daily Mail newspaper.

Art and science

John Maynard Keynes publishes The Economic Consequences of the Peace, an influential economic text that criticised the harsh economic treatment of Germany at the Treaty of Versailles and predicted the destabilising effects of the vindictive settlement.

International

The Paris Peace Conference negotiates the peace treaties between the victorious and defeated powers. The Conference culminated in a number of treaties including the Treaty of Versailles, which granted independence for the countries under Austrian and Russian rule and forced Germany to accept responsibility for the war and pay reparations. It also established the League of Nations.

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