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Hedwig E. Pillitz

(London 1896-1987)


Woman in black, thought to be the artist's partner, Grace, with a floral background, 1932


oil on canvas

signed and dated lower right ‘PILLITZ 32’

58.5 x 44.5 cm.


Provenance

From the artist’s estate.


This striking portrait of a woman in a fabulously structured black silk evening dress, against a Bloomsbury-worthy floral backdrop, was painted in 1932, the same year that Pillitz exhibited a double portrait ‘Nigel and his mother’ at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. It possibly depicts the artist's partner, Grace, with whom she lived.


Hedwig Pillitz was born in London to Hungarian Jewish émigrés, Arpad Armin Pillitz (1867-1947) and Josephine, née Fischer (1876-1965). She had two younger siblings, Doris (1905-1959) who became a successful stage actress, and George (1909-1981). They lived at 80 Canfield Gardens in South Hampstead, and it was there that the girls attended South Hampstead High School. By the 1920s Doris was studying drama at the Central School of Speech & Drama and Hedwig had exhibited works at the Paris Salon. It’s logical to assume that she may well have studied art in Paris. In 1924 she exhibited her first portrait at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, a portrait of ‘Madamoiselle Y’, possibly depicting the portrait photographer Yevonde (Yevonde Philone Middleton, née Cumbers (1893-1975)).


By 1926, Hedwig not only had a painting at the Paris Salon, she was also exhibiting a still life of flowers at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. Nonetheless, portraits seem to have been her passion. She established her studio at 29 Abercorn Place in St. John’s Wood, painting a range of Bohemian and artistic sitters – fellow artists, writers, actors and models, including Marguerite Kelsey, a professional artist’s model most famously painted by Meredith Frampton (Tate Britain), the artist and novelist Barbara Comyns (with FEFA), Shulamith Shafir, a Ukrainian-Jewish concert pianist who made her London debut in 1936 aged just thirteen (Private Collection), the actress Dorothy Black (V&A, London), and the Chinese dancer and mother of contemporary Chinese dance, Tai Ai-lien (with FEFA). By 1940, when Pillitz exhibited the portrait of Tai Ai-lien at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, she was represented by The Rowley Gallery on Kensington Church Street, London.

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