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Edith Sitwell

4 of 7 portraits by John Banting

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Edith Sitwell

by John Banting
gouache, circa 1944
22 in. x 29 3/4 in. (559 mm x 756 mm)
Purchased, 1987
Primary Collection
NPG 5962

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • John Banting (1902-1972), Painter. Artist associated with 7 portraits, Sitter in 3 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

    John Banting made a habit of collecting and anthropomorphising bones. The painting is based on a bone that he found, decorated with glass eyes and put on a plinth for a joke with a notice 'Portrait of Edith Sitwell. Price £1,000’.1 It echoes the observation in Virginia Woolf's diary that Edith was 'like a clean hare's hone that one finds on a moor with emeralds stuck about it'.2

    1 Letter to NPG from Barbara Ker-Seymer, owner of the bone sculpture, 30.1.1987. Bone exhibited in Dada and Surrealism Reviewed, Hayward Gallery, London, 1978 (14.84)

    2 V. Woolf, Diary, 23.3.1927

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 567
  • Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 186 Read entry

    Pine, mitred and pinned, the sight edge and the inward sloping face of the frame covered in S2 or M2 grade glass paper in standard 11 inch lengths, the back of the frame apparently gessoed, with new pieces of wood planted to form a rebate and then painted with gloss black. 2 1⁄ 2 inches wide. Inscribed on back of drawing: 'A Portrait of a bone-head/For George Melly/from John Banting/1970' and in another, probably earlier hand: 'Edith Sitwell May be'.

    John Banting's 'portrait of a bone-head' is based on a bone he decorated with glass eyes and put on a plinth for a joke as a portrait of Edith Sitwell. The anarchic spirit which transforms a bone into a portrait is kept alive by a frame which takes a very ordinary material, glass paper, and exploits it for its decorative qualities. The frame seems to have been recycled and the glass paper added, perhaps relatively recently, so the frame is as likely to date to 1970, when the drawing was inscribed on the back, as to the 1940s.

Subject/Themeback to top

Events of 1944back to top

Current affairs

London is hit by the V1 Flying Bomb. This weapon, developed by the German Luftwaffe and colloquially known as the 'Buzz Bomb', or 'Doodlebug', was the first guided missile and was used for attacks on targets in England and Belgium.

Art and science

Laurence Olivier's epic film version of Henry V is released. Olivier directed and starred in the film, which was partly funded by the British government in recognition of its morale-boosting patriotic appeal. The cast included service men as Henry's army.


France is liberated from German-occupation following the Battle for Normandy. Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of occupied-France led by Field Marshall Montgomery, was the largest seaborne invasion in history, involving almost three million soldiers crossing the channel from England to France. Troops landed on the 6th June (D-Day), and Paris was liberated in late August.

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