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Jessica Dismorr

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Jessica Dismorr

by Jessica Dismorr
oil on gesso board, circa 1929
24 x 19 in. (609 x 484 mm)
Purchased, 1997
Primary Collection
NPG 6393

Sitterback to top

  • Jessica Dismorr (1885-1939), Painter. Sitter in 1 portrait, Artist of 1 portrait.

Artistback to top

  • Jessica Dismorr (1885-1939), Painter. Artist of 1 portrait, Sitter in 1 portrait.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 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. 69 Read entry

    Born in Gravesend, Kent, Jessica Dismorr studied at the Atelier de la Palette, Paris, with Jacques-Emile Blanche (1861-1942) and John Duncan Fergusson (1874-1961) from 1910 to 1913, and during that time was closely associated with the British Fauves in Paris. On her return to London in 1913 she met Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), and for twelve years they were both committed to writing and making images. In June 1914 Dismorr signed the Vorticist manifesto in his magazine Blast and in 1915 she exhibited with the Vorticists at the Doré Galleries, London, contributing to Blast 2. In 1916 she showed with the Allied Artists Association and the American collector John Quinn bought her work to exhibit with that of other Vorticists in New York. Throughout this period she also published poetry, and this became a substitute for her painting during World War I, when she nursed the wounded in France.

    In 1920 she was part of the sole exhibition of Wyndham Lewis's ten-artist-strong Group X, and in 1925 had her first one-person show at the Mayor Gallery London. This was also the year that she came into her inheritance, which gave her less money than she had anticipated and more in the way of problems, as fellow artists resented her financial independence. She was elected to the Seven and Five Society in 1926, which was at the time the most progressive exhibiting society in London and this kept her involved with the 'new' avant-garde: Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson (1894-1982) and Barbara Hepworth were part of the group.

    Yettie Frankfort, a friend of Dismorr, said of her, 'as we became acquainted she reminded me of a dormant volcano, snowy and fiery ... inner conflict or rather a precarious balance of conflicting tendencies was of her essence'. Dismorr suffered from depression throughout her life and had more than one breakdown. Another friend, Fay Asher, spoke about 'her withdrawn quality' and said that 'self-destruction was inevitable'. Dismorr hanged herself aged fifty-four at home in Hampstead, London.

    This painting has an almost tentative quality; it seems hardly to exist, the whites of the prepared gesso board emanating translucence and fragility, the pale colours brushed on so lightly. There is a sketchiness that belies the solidity of the figure looming towards us within the space of the room and of the robust kitchen chair she sits on. The rough calligraphic marks indicate the paintings behind her but of course are merely ciphers for the real thing. Dismorr's work is in the collections of the Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 180

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

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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