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A striking and rare painting by Ruth Selby-Bigge (née Humphries). Examples of her work are scarce, largely due to her disappearance from the commercial and public sphere when she became a wife and mother. She had been one of brightest lights at the Slade during a golden period, securing 1st Prizes in Head Painting, Figure Painting and Figure Composition amongst other accolades. At this time, she became good friends with Dora Carrington and other members of the Bloomsbury set, with Virginia Woolf describing her as, “the beautiful Ruth Humphries”. Mark Gertler made a prescient remark in a letter to her at the time, “ Your picture had extremely promising points, and as long as you don’t do anything silly - such as getting married or something ghastly like that - you ought to do good pictures”. Not long after this she married fellow student Sir John Selby-Bigge, Bt. and had three daughters between 1920 and 1924.
An ardent admirer at the Slade was Edward Wadsworth and parallels with his work can certainly be seen here with this surreal composition; the kitchen still life dwarfing the mountain range in the background and the chiles resembling scorpion tails. It is an instantly captivating image with that surrealist quality of being both unsettling and intriguing all at the same time.
Source: Mengting Yu (2020) London’s Women Artists, 1900-1914: A Talented and Decorative Group, Springer Nature