Edith and Osbert Sitwell, Beneath the Family by Sargent, Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire
Gelatin Silver Print
9 x 8 inches
Stamped on verso, “Bill Brant” and titled, apparently in his hand
Purchased from William Doyle Galleries
In the 1940s the German-born Bill Brandt was drawn to the rituals and customs of daily life of the English, with what he saw as the subconscious ways people inhabited their social roles and class positions. Brandt’s photographs have a heightened sense of atmosphere, theatrical artifice and a dreamlike sensibility. In this image the siblings Edith and Osbert Sitwell are seen in their home under a portrait of their family painted by John Singer Sargent. Notorious in their lifetime for their eccentric behaviors, Edith in particular became well known in literary circles for her poetry, performance pieces, writing, and music. Brant’s regal yet glowering image is tinged with melancholy that hints at the dysfunction and tension that surrounded the family for generations.
From the 1930s until his death in 1983, Bill Brandt was the most influential image-maker in Great Britain. Recognized primarily as a documentary photographer – especially with bodies of work such as The English at Home that compared the aristocracy with manual laborers – Brandt also provided reportage during World War II for English publications such as the Picture Post. This portrait of siblings Edith and Osbert Sitwell was published in 1949 in the UK in an article called “An Odd Lot” that was a series on writers. The illustrated article was written by Alan Pryce-Jones who observed that Edith and Osbert were “as remote from the Century of Common Man as the Aztecs,” an observation captured visually by the gifted Bill Brandt for this, one of his most celebrated portraits. They are posed in front of a large oil painting by American artist John Singer Sargent which portrays them as children, playing on the floor.
– Linda Benedict Jones, photo historian, former Curator of Photography for the Carnegie Museum of Art, and former Executive Director of Silver Eye Center for Photography
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