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Dame Ethel Walker

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Dame Ethel Walker

by Dame Ethel Walker
oil on canvas, circa 1925
24 1/8 in. x 20 in. (613 mm x 508 mm)
Purchased, 1980
Primary Collection
NPG 5301

Sitterback to top

  • Dame Ethel Walker (1861-1951), Painter and sculptor. Sitter in 2 portraits, Artist of 2 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Dame Ethel Walker (1861-1951), Painter and sculptor. Artist of 2 portraits, Sitter in 2 portraits.

This portraitback to top

There is some doubt about the date of the portrait, an inscription on the back gives the date of 1925, but even allowing for self -deception could the artist really have been 64? The date for the yellow coat as a fashion item would be about 1910. There is evidence of the angle of the head having been repainted and the chin and mouth rethought. Perhaps the painter reworked it before giving it in 1925 to the member of her family from whence this portrait came.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 209
  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 216
  • 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. 61 Read entry

    Dame Ethel Walker was born in Edinburgh. She attended Putney School of Art, Westminster School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art during different periods between 1883 and 1922. Velázquez (1599-1660), the Impressionists and Walter Sickert (1872-98), whose evening classes she attended, were her main influences. She exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1898 onwards and joined the New English Art Club in 1900. Her first one-person show was at the Redfern Gallery, Cork Street, London, in 1927. She had a studio by the Thames in Chelsea (she was known as a 'Cheyne Walker' - one of a group of women artists who had trained at the Slade, belonged to the New English Art Club and lived in Cheyne Walk). She also had a cottage in Robin Hood's Bay, Yorkshire, where she spent time with her wire-haired fox terriers and painted seascapes outdoors. She represented Britain in the Venice Biennale in 1930 and 1932, and her painting Nausicaa (now in the Tate's collection) represented British art at the 1939 World Trade Fair in Chicago.

    This portrait has real presence and a feeling of spontaneity, echoing the work of the French painter and printmaker Berthe Morisot (1841-95) in its impasto and textured brushwork. There is a slightly raffish quality to the masculine tie worn askew, whilst the decorative collar of her yellow jacket is visually arresting. Walker's portraits, still lifes and landscape paintings show a sensibility which is more convincing than in her larger visionary compositions. Walker was said to have been an eccentric character with a terse wit, confidence in her own abilities and a 'furious energy'.

    Elected honorary president of the Women's International Art Club in 1932, she was made an Associate Member of the Royal Academy in 1940 and a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1943. The Tate held a retrospective exhibition of her work (together with that of Gwen John and Frances Hodgkins) in 1951. Her work is held in numerous public collections including the Royal Collection, the Courtauld Institute of Art, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and at York City Art Gallery and Leeds City Art Gallery.

  • Rideal, Liz, Insights: Self-portraits, 2005, p. 11 Read entry

    Walker’s self-portrait attests her commitment to Impressionist technique. She studied at the Slade School of Art and attended Walter Sickert’s evening classes. In 1900 she was the first woman painter to be elected to the New English Art Club and she represented Britain twice in the Venice Biennale, in 1930 and 1932.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 638

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1925back to top

Current affairs

On the advice of the Governor of the Bank of England, Montagu Norman, Winston Churchill returns British currency to the Gold Standard. This caused deflation across the empire as the value of the pound returned to the pre-war gold price, leading to unemployment, the miners' strike and the general strike in 1926.

Art and science

John Logie Baird transmits the first television images of a ventriloquist's dummy. The BBC used Logie Baird's invention from 1927 until 1935 when they adopted EMI-Marconi's superior electronic scanning system.
Virginia Woolf publishes her innovative 'stream of consciousness' novel, Mrs Dalloway, which chronicles a day in the life of the protagonist through her interior monologue.


Sir Joseph Austen Chamberlain, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs represents Britain at the Locarno Treaties. Lorcano secured the post-war territorial settlement and established pledges of non-aggression between various European Nations. The 'spirit of Locarno' helped secure Germany's admission into the League of Nations in 1926. Chamberlain was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in the peace agreement.

Tell us more back to top

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