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John Maynard Keynes, Baron Keynes; Lydia Lopokova

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© William Roberts Society

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John Maynard Keynes, Baron Keynes; Lydia Lopokova

by William Roberts
oil on canvas, signed 1932
29 1/8 in. x 31 7/8 in. (740 mm x 810 mm)
Given by King's College: Cambridge: UK, 1983
Primary Collection
NPG 5587

Sittersback to top

Artistback to top

  • William Roberts (1895-1980), Painter. Artist of 7 portraits, Sitter in 4 portraits.

This portraitback to top

To be presented smoking in the 1920s indicated an emancipated view of life; it was still regarded as daring for women to smoke. Keynes particularly admired the paintings of William Roberts and gave him financial support for many years.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Audio Guide
  • Gibson, Robin, Painting The Century: 101 Portrait Masterpieces 1900-2000, 2000 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 26 October 2000 to 4 February 2001), p. 121 Read entry


    Painter, born in London and educated at the Slade School of Fine Art and St Martin’s School of Art; involved in the Vorticist movement; taught at the Central School of Art, London, and was elected to the Royal Academy in 1966; later work focuses on scenes from everyday life.


    William Roberts never quite fulfilled the promise of his early brush with Vorticism, but nevertheless developed a distinctive and original Constructivist-influenced style which makes an interesting comparison with the work of Hoerle. His achievement in portraiture, though not well known, is a considerable one; unlike Hoerle, Roberts tended to modify the stylised and tubular forms of his figure compositions to a more gentle simplification and stylization in his portraits. Before he gradually withdrew from all social life after the war Roberts accepted a number of portrait commissions, including one of T. E. Lawrence in uniform in 1921 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), a year after he had approached Lawrence for work on the illustrated de luxe edition of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. His best work, however, was reserved for the almost annual portrayals of his wife Sarah which he began in the early 1920s.

    Like Lawrence, the Cambridge economist Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) was an important patron of young artists. As well as buying several works from Roberts, he supported him financially for a number of years, and commissioned this portrait of himself with his wife, the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova (1892-1981), whom he had married in 1925. A slightly abstracted and reserved work, it does capture something of Keynes’s formidable personality and led to a couple of other commissions from Cambridge colleges. The two elegantly curling hands holding apparently unlit cigarettes at the lower centre of the picture keep the composition together but scarcely unite the two figures psychologically. It is probably this implicit and underlying tension that gives the portrait so much of its power.


    William Roberts: An Artist and His Family, exhibition catalogue, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1984, pp 3-4.

  • Rogers, Malcolm, Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, 1993 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 August to 23 October 1994), p. 146
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 192
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 192 Read entry

    John Maynard Keynes was a great patron of the arts and liked to buy the work of young British artists, often on the advice of his friends. He commissioned this portrait of himself and his wife, the Russian ballet dancer Lydia Lopokova, from William Roberts, paying for it on 4 July 1932. It is in Roberts' slightly abstracted, rather sculptural style but effectively conveys a sense of Keynes' formidable personality, book in one hand (he was a great bibliophile), cigarette in the other and, slightly oddly, wearing a heavy overcoat.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 352
  • Spalding, Frances, The Bloomsbury Group, 2013, p. 86
  • Spalding, Frances, Insights: The Bloomsbury Group, 2005, p. 76
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 205 Read entry

    This portrait depicts the economist John Maynard Keynes, Baron Keynes, with his wife, the Russian-born ballerina Lydia Lopokova. Keynes’s works, notably The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919) and General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936), established what is known as ‘Keynsian economics’, a theory that became widely influential following the Second World War. He was instrumental in the foundation of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. A cultivated collector and patron of the arts, Keynes was a member of the literary and artistic Bloomsbury circle and was first chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain.

    Keynes particularly admired the work of the painter William Roberts (1895–1980), and gave him financial support for many years. He commissioned this double portrait of himself with his wife. Lopokova had been one of Diaghilev’s principal dancers at the Ballets Russes, and was portrayed by several artists, including Pablo Picasso and Laura Knight. She had made her London debut in 1919 in Massine’s La Boutique Fantastique but abandoned the ballet to marry Keynes in 1925.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1932back to top

Current affairs

Sir Oswald Mosley forms the British Union of Fascists. Mosley's party - nicknamed the Black Shirts after their uniform - was founded along the lines of Mussolini's Fascist Party in Italy and called for the replacement of parliamentary democracy with a system of elected executives. During the war Mosley was interned and the BUF was proscribed.

Art and science

John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton 'split the atom'. In fact, Cockcroft and Walton's achievement was to change the nucleus of one element into another by bombarding it with protons, rather than to literally spit an atom apart. Nevertheless 'splitting the atom' has become the popular way of describing this important stage in the development of nuclear technology.


Saudi Arabia is formed by the unification of the Kingdoms of Hijaz and Nejd under King Abdul Aziz.
Iraq is granted independence from the British mandate established by the League of Nations in 1919-20.

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