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William Plomer

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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William Plomer

by Edward Wolfe
oil on canvas, 1929
55 7/8 in. x 39 1/8 in. (1419 mm x 994 mm)
Purchased, 1977
Primary Collection
NPG 5172

Sitterback to top

  • William Plomer (1903-1973), Poet and novelist. Sitter in 17 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Edward Wolfe (1897-1982), Painter. Artist of 2 portraits, Sitter in 4 portraits.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Clerk, Honor, The Sitwells, 1994 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 14 October - 22 January 1995), p. 140 Read entry

    The writer William Plomer (1903-1973) was born in the Transvaal and spent his youth shuttling between South Africa and England. In 1920 he ordered a copy of Edith's Wooden Pegasus from Blackwell in Oxford and discerned a poet with a 'new song', one he could admire. In London he heard Edith reading at the Swedenborg Hall, an experience carefully recollected in his autobiography. 'There was a dignity that seemed as if it might sharpen into asperity; an underlying compassion in the voice and in the shape of the eyelids; an easily accessible sense of the ridiculous, the impertinent, and the commonplace.’1 Plomer became one of Edith's most loyal correspondents and her many letters to him (in the library of Durham University) have been an invaluable source to her biographers. Plomer's own career began with a fiercely satiric first novel, Turbott Wolfe, and the anti-establishment magazine Voorslag, which precipitated his departure from South Africa in 1926. After two years teaching in Japan he arrived in England and was painted in London by his fellow South African, Edward Wolfe. The artist had settled in England at the age of nineteen and studied at the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Art before going on to the Slade School of Fine Art in 1917. Sitters for his brightly coloured portraits (he became known as 'England's Matisse') included Arnold Bennett and Constance Sitwell, Edith's cousin by marriage. Osbert owned a fine Wolfe drawing of a woman seated at a desk.

    1 Quoted in Victoria Glendinning, Edith Sitwell, a Unicorn among Lions, 1981, pp 62-3.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 497

Events of 1929back to top

Current affairs

The first election held under universal suffrage is a victory for Labour. Ramsay Macdonald returned for his second term as Prime Minster, and appointed Margaret Grace Bondfield as the first woman Cabinet Minister.

Art and science

Two classic books about the First World War are published: All Quiet on the Western Front, by war veteran, Erich Maria Remarque, tells of the horrors of war and the returning German soldiers' feelings of detachment from civilian life; while Robert Grave's autobiography Goodbye to All That, aimed to describe the author's experiences of the war so that they 'need never be thought about again'.


The 24th October 1929 becomes known as Black Thursday when the US Stock Exchange Collapses and millions are lost. The event was the start of the Wall Street Crash, which in turn contributed towards the Great Depression: a major international recession that lasted through most of the 1930s.

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