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Harold Speed 

(London 1872-1957 Watlington, Oxfordshire) 

Young woman in a landscape, c.1930s   *SOLD*

oil on canvas

68.5 x 57.5 cm.

Painted at the peak of his career, this dreamy portrait of a young woman by Harold Speed bears all the bravura hallmarks of his style that led him to be among the leading portraitists of his day - from the loose, rough textured and quickly applied paint of the landscape, in contrast to the young woman’s softly blended and lustrous skin. It quite literally exemplifies the advice he gave in 1924 ‘on painting a head’ – ‘Always paint with the least amount of paint that will get the effect you want. Reserve thick paint for those occasions when you want to make a crisp touch quite separate from what it is painted into.’ Her pose, sensuality and the natural setting evoke the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites, especially Rosetti, and the colouring is reminiscent of early Venetian masters – Paolo Veronese and Titian.

Harold Speed was the son of an architect, and initially followed his father’s path, enrolling at the Royal College of Art to study architecture as well, but he soon switched to painting, after winning a gold medal in the life drawing classes on offer there. In 1891 he went on to the Royal Academy Schools where he again won a gold medal, and a travelling scholarship that took him to Belgium, France, Italy and Spain over the course of 1894-1895. On his return he was commissioned to paint the fresco of ‘Autumn’ in the lunette of the restaurant at the Royal Academy. By 1906 Speed had been elected as an associate of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris and held his first one-man exhibition was at the Leicester Galleries in 1907, later exhibiting at The Fine Art Society.

He was a member and Master of the Art Workers’ Guild, a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and a prolific exhibitor at the RA for over fifty years, as well as the RBA. He would go on to write seminal practical texts on figurative art - ‘The Science and Practice of Drawing’ in 1913, ‘The Science and Practice of Oil Painting’ in 1924, and ‘What is the Good of Art?’, in 1936. 

There are works by Harold Speed at Tate Britain, Southampton City Art Gallery, Belfast City Hall, and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

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