OBITUARIES Marguerite Kelsey
Friday 10 March 1995
She first began posing at the age of 15, in 1924, and so popular did she become that she was often booked months in advance, especially in the run-up to the Royal Academy's summer exhibition. The tradition of figure-painting in Britain, stretching back to the 18th century, was still unbroken, and the best models were always in great demand. Marguerite Kelsey was painted by many of the leading artists of the pre-war period, including G.P. Jacomb-Hood, Sir William Reid Dick, Augustus John, Sir William Russell Flint, Charles Shannon, Dame Ethel Walker, Sir John Lavery, Arnold Mason, Harry Jonas, Dame Laura Knight and Campbell Taylor.
It is her lithe and firm body, with upraised arms, that is depicted in Sir Charles Wheeler's bronze sculpture Spring, in the Tate Gallery. She posed for Meredith Frampton's stunning and elegant full-length portrait of a woman reclining on a sofa of 1928, also in the Tate, which was the revelation of the 1982 Frampton retrospective at the gallery. She is the model of an equally beautiful painting by Alan Beeton of 1936 which looks down from the wall of my office at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
It was through this painting that I came to know Marguerite Kelsey well in the early 1980s. She had returned to England, crippled by arthritis, after an absence of 20 years in New Zealand, and a marriage she rarely mentioned. Her enthusiasm for the art world was undiminished, and she basked in the publicity which her role as Frampton's model brought her. Her vivid recollections of the art world in the 1930s and of her own experience as a model proved to be an important source of material for those like myself and Richard Morphet from the Tate Gallery who are undertaking research on painters of the period.
Kelsey's life as a model was a demanding one, requiring her to pose for hours on end in chilly studios, in return for a pittance, but the art world had been her life and she would do anything for those artists for whom she had given her devotion. She was a romantic, a woman of rare warmth and simplicity, who even in old age retained that immutable quality of beauty and radiance which had inspired Frampton and Beeton.
She was friend and confidante of these older painters, with whom she conducted intense, but platonic relationships. She always said that Beeton gave her what little education she had received, filling her with a passion for books and paintings, and opening her eyes to the wider experience of life. She posed for him many times, the inspiration for pictures that are highly realistic and yet haunting.
It is a testament to her striking looks and personality, and her professionalism, that she continued to attract artists as a model in old age. She sat for Michael Clark and last year's winning entry for the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery was a full-length study of her by Peter Edwards.
Marguerite Kelsey, artists' model: born London 11 January 1909; married 1935 James Grant, 1961 Charles Barry; died High Wycombe 5 March 1995.
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