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Spare a Copper!

Sir William Orpen (1878-1931)



Pen and ink on Huddersfield Club writing paper

7 x 9 inches

'A Century of British Art: 1900-1945', Chris Beetles Gallery, 21 June-17 July 2021, No 28

The full letter reads:
'Spare a copper! (I mean a few words of hope) governor!! To a poor bloke who found himself stranded in this left hand bottom corner of the earth – with nothing but dirt and smoke for friends – oh! to be a Hedger again with fresh air and nice people and not a care except to be cautious not to drink too much Egg flipp. – ’ope ye won somethink good at Hascot!
My kindest regards to Mrs Wertheimer and Miss Grace
Your obedient servant'

In 1906, William Orpen went to Huddersfield, Yorkshire, to fulfil a commission to paint six-year-old Annie Isobel Lumb, known as ‘Lilo’. She was the only child of Joe Lumb, owner of a successful family textile company, and his wife, Ada, who lived at Holmleigh, Park Drive. The completed portrait (now in the collections of Huddersfield Art Gallery) is possibly modelled on James McNeill Whistler’s
Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cecily Alexander (1872, Tate).

Orpen seems not to have enjoyed his visit to Huddersfield, as is indicated by letters that he wrote and illustrated at the time, including the present one. In this, he presents himself as a former countryman, who has moved to the industrial city and fallen on hard times. It is written and drawn on the headed paper of the Huddersfield Club, a gentleman’s club situated centrally at 22 John William Street. However, he has added the further address of ‘Holmleigh’, suggesting that he was staying with the Lumbs for at least part of his visit.

While the recipient of this letter is not specified, Orpen does mention both a ‘Mrs Wertheimer’ and a ‘Miss Grace’, names that may aid the discovery of Orpen’s intended reader. In 1904, the art dealer, Charles Wertheimer, had become Orpen’s leading patron, and, in the same year, Orpen showed a portrait of Wertheimer as his first exhibit at the Royal Academy. However, Wertheimer’s wife, Frieda, died in that year, so he was a widower when Orpen produced this letter in 1906. Orpen was also in contact with Charles’s brother, Asher, another dealer, and, at some point, produced a drawing of the head of his wife, Flora (which he gave to the artist, Alfred Rich). Flora lived until 1922, so it is likely that she is the ‘Mrs Wertheimer’ mentioned by Orpen, and thus possible that he was writing to Asher. Less certain is the identification of ‘Miss Grace’, and her possible connection to the Wertheimers. Orpen’s own wife was called Grace, but it seems unlikely that he would have described her as ‘Miss’ or coupled her with Flora Wertheimer in sending his regards.

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