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    Gerald L. Brockhurst (British, 1890-1978)
    Merle Oberon, 1937
    Oil on canvas
    33-3/4 x 29 inches (85.7 x 73.7 cm)
    Signed lower right: Brockhurst


    The artist;
    Merle Oberon, acquired from the above, 1937;
    Thence by descent to her daughter, Francesca Pagliai.

    Royal Academy, London, Summer Exhibition, 1937, no. 268.

    "Merle Oberon's Portrait," Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser, Queensland, Australia, May 3, 1937, p. 3.
    Born in India of mixed parentage, Merle Oberon had an exotic beauty that proved to be her stepping-stone to a successful film career. Her first important role was as Anne Boleyn in the Private Life of Henry VIII in 1933 which starred Charles Laughton; this led to leading roles in films such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Dark Angel (a performance that earned her an Oscar nomination), and in 1939 her iconic role as Cathy in Wuthering Heights opposite Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff.

    Instrumental to Merle's early career was the famed director Alexander Korda (whom she later married). He had worked in Hollywood during the silent film era but relocated to Britain where he founded London Films in 1932. Recognizing Miss Oberon's potential and the quality of her performance in The Private Life of Henry VIII, Korda not only starred her in films he was involved in but also played a key role in helping her obtain her various roles in Samuel Goldwyn-produced films in Hollywood.

    Merle was in London filming one of Korda's films, I, Claudius, when she sat for this mesmerizing portrait by Gerald Brockhurst in the painter's Chelsea studio in February 1937. The film's production was halted the following month ostensibly because Merle was injured in a car accident. However, the gossip of the time held that the real reason the film was scrapped stemmed from intense clashes between Korda and the leading man, Charles Laughton. Luckily, Merle recovered and went on enjoy a busy career until she retired in 1973. Truly, the film world's loss of I, Claudius was more than compensated for by the art world's gain of Merle's portrait by Brockhurst. It became, along with the painter's likenesses of the Duchess of Windsor and Marlene Dietrich, one of Brockhurst's three most famous celebrity portraits. Merle Oberon was exhibited in the 1937 Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition in London, as well as in the 1938 Royal Society of Portrait Painters' Exhibition (according to the label on the reverse of the painting). When Merle purchased her portrait in May 1937 for the substantial sum of £2,000, the news was reported far and wide.

    Gerald Brockhurst enjoyed the distinction of being one of England's premier portrait painters in the 1930s, especially known for his captivating portraits of beautiful women. His talent was noticeable at an early age; he won a place at the Royal Academy schools when he was just 17, and with a travelling scholarship studied in Paris and Italy, where the artists of the Italian Renaissance such as Leonardo, Piero della Francesca and Botticelli greatly influenced him. His prowess as a printmaker early in his career involved a meticulous etching technique for rendering light and shade in a hyper-realistic manner. He was able to translate this skill into paint with equal success. In his portraits in oil, Brockhurst developed a distinctive recipe which juxtaposed a realistic portrayal of the sitter's face and figure with a distant landscape (referencing the background of many Renaissance portraits) that the sitter does not quite seem to inhabit. The pairing led to a much-prized surreal quality that combined the porcelain reserve of Italian Old Masters with a strong sense of the modern (bobbed hairstyles and deco fashion) to wonderful effect.

    In this masterful portrayal of Miss Oberon, Brockhurst has clothed the glamorous movie star in an exotic costume and bejeweled headdress highlighting her exquisite features. The viewer has the pleasure of looking upon a work of art that essentially stares right back at us through the unflinching gaze of one of the most alluring sitters Brockhurst ever painted.

    Condition Report*: Original canvas. Under UV light, prior to recent treatment, the surface fluoresced with an even green sheen indicative of an oxidized varnish layer. There were no signs of significant damage and several small areas of inpainting were visible. After treatment, to achieve the artist's original intent for the appearance of this painting, the discolored varnish layer was removed and in the process, all previous re-touching was removed as well. A second enzyme cleaning removed an additional layer of dirt from the surface. The previously inpainted areas were glazed with tinted varnish to minimize the thin appearance and small abrasions were inpainted with Maimeri restoration colors. The surface was varnished with several coats of Soluvar synthetic varnish to achieve a semi-gloss sheen. The canvas is stretched to a tendon and mortise strainer that is attached to a wood panel on the inside. The wood support and canvas are both in good condition. The top edge of the canvas appears to have been extended by approximately one inch from its original size. This is only noticeable by the slight puckering of the canvas. Small abrasions along the edges were caused by movement in the existing frame. The black fabric of the sitter's dress is very thinly painted allowing the texture of the canvas to show through in areas. The artist's glazing and thin brush strokes and impasto are visible on the surface and was the artist's intent and technique. The signature in the lower right is intact and stable. We are grateful to Las Negras Studio, Dallas, Texas for their assistance with this condition report.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    December, 2018
    7th Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 7
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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