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Eileen Agar

© estate of Eileen Agar

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Eileen Agar

by Eileen Agar
oil on canvas, 1927
30 1/8 in. x 25 1/4 in. (765 mm x 641 mm)
Purchased, 1986
Primary Collection
NPG 5881

Sitterback to top

  • Eileen Agar (1899-1991), Painter. Sitter in 4 portraits, Artist of 2 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Eileen Agar (1899-1991), Painter. Artist of 2 portraits, Sitter in 4 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Born in Buenos Aires, Eileen Agar came to Britain as a child. She studied in London and Paris, and in 1934 became a member of the London Group. Her work, which consists of oils, collages, found objects and experimentation with automatic techniques, was selected by Roland Penrose and Herbert Read for inclusion in the International Surrealist exhibition in 1936 and she later exhibited with the Surrealists in New York, Tokyo, Paris and Amsterdam. Painted onto coarse canvas, this self-portrait bears the confidence of youth. Her auburn hair is rendered in impasto and the green of her tunic recurs in the shadows on her face.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 52 Read entry

    While studying in Paris, Agar met the surrealists André Breton and Paul Éluard; in 1936 she was the only British female surrealist represented in the International Surrealist Exhibition. Later work, particularly her collages, suggests her aesthetic went beyond the boundaries of the movement.

  • Rideal, Liz, Mirror Mirror: Self-portraits by Women Artists, 2001 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12 September 2001 to 20 January 2002), p. 63 Read entry

    Eileen Agar moved to England from her birthplace, Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1906. She studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art (1919-20), at the Leon Underwood School of Painting and Sculpture (1920-21), where her peers included Henry Moore (1898-1986) and Gertrude Hermes, and then at the Slade School of Fine Art (1922-6). The death of her father in 1925 provided her with a private income which enabled 'une vie d'artiste' in Paris between 1928 and 1930. In the late 1930s Agar found herself in the milieu of the Surrealist avant-garde. She was the only British woman painter included in the International Surrealist Exhibition held at the New Burlington Galleries, London, in 1936. Paul Nash (1889-1946) and Sir Herbert Read (1893-1968) selected her for inclusion in the show and described themselves as 'enchanted by the rare quality of her talent, the product of a highly sensitive imagination and a feminine clairvoyance'. (Quoted in D. Ades, 'Notes on two women Surrealist painters: Eileen Agar and Ithell Colquhoun', Oxford Art Journal, iii/I, 1980, p.37.) She spent the summer of 1937 at Mougins with Nash (with whom she also had an affair between 1935 and 1940), Paul Éluard (1895-1952), Sir Roland Penrose (1900-84), Man Ray (1890-1976) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). World War II disrupted her painting and she did not start working again seriously until 1946. She exhibited with the Surrealists in New York, Tokyo, Paris and Amsterdam.

    Painted onto coarse canvas, this work bears the confidence of youth. Agar portrays herself in a robust three-quarter pose using black to delineate her features. The green that she wears recurs in the shadows on her face and her auburn hair is rendered in impasto. The work is painted in a loose post-Impressionist style.

    Eileen Agar's work is in the collections of the Tate, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and Leeds City Art Gallery. Birch and Conran Fine Art, London, gave her a retrospective in 1987, which revived her career. Agar wrote her autobiography A Look at My Life with Andrew Lambirth in 1988. This painting was purchased from the artist's niece in 1986.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 5

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1927back to top

Current affairs

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland is renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, acknowledging the full independence of the Irish Free State, led at the time by W.T. Cosgrave, the the first President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State.

Art and science

The BBC gains its Royal Charter making it a public corporation and a public service broadcaster accountable to its audience. John Reith became the first Director General with the directive to 'inform, educate and entertain.'


Stalin expels Leon Trotsky from the Soviet Communist Party, giving himself greater control of the party and country by ousting opposition elements.

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