French Master Chefs in the 1930s
Past display archive
12 August 2013 - 29 June 2014
Room 31: case display
by Florence Enid Stoddard
In the late 1930s, Florence Enid Stoddard (1882-1962), an artist based for more than a decade in the United States where she made a living as a travelling portraitist and miniature painter, returned briefly to Britain and gained access to some of London’s great kitchens where she persuaded their busy maitre-chefs to sit for her. Armed with a list of French phrases with which to pose her sitters, she produced lively pencil studies of five of the leading chefs of the time, and a sixth of the long-serving head waiter at Simpsons in the Strand. It is unclear whether this set was commissioned for publication or a personal undertaking that Stoddard intended to exhibit in order to promote her work as a jobbing portraitist when she returned to America.
In 2012 this group of drawings, together with accompanying archival material, was generously donated to the Gallery by the artist’s great-niece Christine Hayes and this display provides a first opportunity to showcase this intriguing acquisition and to introduce three of its chefs, Eugène Herbodeau at the Carlton, François Latry at the Savoy and Paul Henri Poupart at Buckingham Palace.
These men, and their compatriots Arsène Avignon at the Ritz and Marcel Percevault at Claridges (not displayed), were successors to the great culinary expert Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935). Where he led the way in gastronomie, they followed, promoting and celebrating French haute cuisine during the 1920s, through the years of depression, and into the period leading up to the Second World War. They presided over some of London’s busiest kitchens and became celebrities in their own right – as famous in their day as the celebrity chefs of today. In capturing the likenesses of these men, Stoddard’s drawings help evoke a bygone age of fine dining in some of the best hotels and grandest residences and to remind us of the status of the maitre-chefs and their contribution to the culinary arts.
© National Portrait Gallery, London