Miss Sunday Wilshin, the actress, in the play Nine Till Six

September 19, 2019 8:38 am Published by

Signed, dated & numbered ‘OP.93′ lower left, 1930
Tempera on panel

PROVENANCE : M Martin. The Artist until 1967.

EXHIBITED : Royal Academy, London, 1930, no.893
Art Exhibitions Bureau, London, 1930, no.4
Arlington Gallery, New York, 1938

According to two labels verso this work shows Sunday Wilshin in her character in the play Nine Till Six. Nine Till Six ran on Broadway from September to October 1930 at the Ritz Theatre, New York. Basic searches have not revealed any information on a run in London and more direct research is in hand. . Nine Till Six was subsequently released as a British drama film in 1932 made at Ealing Studios and Sunday Wilshin played Judy. Nine Till Six is a romantic drama in which the love lives of several London dress shop employees are chronicled. Much of the story centers upon the head dressmaker who gets into trouble by borrowing one of her own designs to attend a gala with a rich fellow and finds herself accused of stealing it

This portrait showcases Armfield’s mastery in the use of tempera (in this case on board). The influence of decorative arts is obvious in the stylised figure and the minimalist approach to details. Armfield was also strongly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, an influence that in this picture is most obvious in the ethereal quality of the sitter’s face. In spite of the contemporary attire, Armfield manages to capture a sense of timeless beauty.

Panel height: 61 cm, 24in. Length 37 cm, 13 ½ in.
In the original, four-tier, silvered frame, Frame height 75.5 cm., 30 in., Length 50.5 cm., 20 in

Maxwell Ashby Armfield was born at Ringwood of Quaker parents. His father being a milling engineer, Armfield entered the Birmingham School of Art in 1899. There he came under the influence of Henry Payne, Gaskin and Southall, who taught him the tempera technique he was to practice for the rest of his life, and was deeply impressed by the Pre-Raphaelite paintings in the Art Gallery. In September 1902, after visiting Italy at the suggestion of Gaskin, he went to Paris, enrolling at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and sharing a studio with three other students – Norman Wilkinson (also from Birmingham), Keith Henderson and the sculptor Gaston Lachaise. In 1904 his painting Faustine, inspired by the English poet Algernon Swinburne, was bought for the Luxembourg.

Returning from London the following year, he embarked on a series of one-man exhibitions that were henceforth to mark his career, showing first at Robert Ross’s Carfax Gallery (1908, 1912), subsequently at the Leicester Galleries and elsewhere, as well as contributing regularly to the RA, NEAC and RWS (member since 1941). In 1909 he married the writer Constance Smedley, with whom he was to work closely until her death in 1941.

Armfield’s stay in the US – In the spring of 1915, Maxwell Armfield and his wife Constance Smedley left their Cotswold house and sailed to the United States, where they were to stay until 1922. There he concentrated on oil painting in the avant-garde style, but did not abandon his small tempera still life and landscape paintings. He joined a group of artists who included George Bellows and Robert Henri, who saw beauty and charm in modern, industrial America.

The Armfields founded The Greenleaf Theatre in 1915 as a universal travelling theatre and between 1916 and 1921 they lectured and performed across the United States at various universities, colleges, community theatres and workshops and womens’ clubs. Armfield describes his first experiences of New York in his book An Artist in America, London, 1925.

Armfield was not only a painter but a prolific illustrator and versatile decorative artist, while being deeply involved in theatre, music, teaching and journalism and writing some twenty books, including poetry, accounts of foreign travel, and such textbooks as the much-acclaimed Manual of Tempera Painting (dedicated to Southall, 1930).

He was also a tireless researcher into occult religions, and passionately interested in the formal and philosophical basis of art. Neglected for many years after the Second World War, he lived to see a revival of interest in his work before his death at the age of ninety-one in 1972.

Armfield’s work can be found in many museums and public collections. In the US, Armfield’s work is present in the Institute of Art, Chicago, The Minneapolis Institute of the Arts (illustrated above) and in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Paintings in Museums and Public Art Galleries – UK
Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, UK
Britten-Pears Foundation, Aldeburgh, England
Southampton City Art Gallery, England
Tate Gallery, London, UK

Paintings in Museums and Public Art Galleries – Worldwide:
Institute of Chicago
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota

Sunday Wilshin (1905-1991)

Sunday Wilshin was a child actress, appearing regularly in the West End from the age of ten. Throughout the twenties and thirties she was much in demand, both for her good looks and her skills as a character actress. By the 1930’s Wilshin was a familiar face on the British screen as well as on stage. She was in Hitchcock’s Champagne in 1928 but her film career only really took off with the advent of talkies. Wilshin appeared twenty one films in the 1920’s and 30’s.

However, she had ambitions above and beyond looking decorative. In 1938 she turned her attention to radio drama and began a long association with the BBC, working firstly as an actress then as a producer. She is best known for her work with the overseas service, making documentaries and a series of interviews with writers and artists. She replaced George Orwell as the BBC’s specialist on India and was responsible for the corporation’s output during the sensitive run-up to Independence and Partition. Some of Orwell’s last correspondence is to Wilshin, she was trying to persuade him to contribute a talk on poetry.

Popular with her staff, she was fondly, remembered by Hallam Tennyson (another Indian specialist and an intriguing character in his own right). “Our boss was the delightfully dotty Sunday Wilshin. Sunday was one of the few women executives I have met who enjoyed her ‘feminine’ qualities and who made use of them in her work “. He noted her continued preference for a kiss-curl hairstyle and felt she was still a Pre-War starlet at heart.

Apart from her radio work, she wrote books and edited and proof-read the work of others.. She also made the occasional foray into television, presenting “Asian Club” in 1955, surely the first such venture in the West. Wilshin died in 1991. She epitomises the spirit of the age and, as a symbol of female modernity and the struggle for independence and self-determination, she is the equal of many better known young women of her time.

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