The British artist led a Bohemian life in Chelsea using his sharp eye to document the people around him.
“They are so utterly out of their time,” says dealer Andrew Sim, who offers a collection of Egan’s work in the exhibition The Exquisite Grotesques – the first dealer exhibition of his works for half a century. It runs from February 4-10 in 54 Shepherd Market, Mayfair.
“Like many of the best artists, he inhabited his own little universe and created his own vision of the world,” adds Sim.
The collection of 38 works spanning the artist’s career come from his estate.
Though Egan’s early black and white works, such as the 1929 sable brush and ink His Private Secretaries, are sometimes compared to those of Aubrey Beardsley, his style is largely distinct from those of his contemporaries – and he insisted that he was not aware of Beardsley’s work until later in life. During the war he began to introduce colour into his highly sexualised fantasy images.
“Some of his work in the 1940s seems to prefigure much later artistic phenomena such as psychedelia,” Sim says.
“Others are so bizarre that they would have been near impossible to exhibit at the time.”
Egan’s 1939 pastel Land Girl, Sim adds, “could have been designed for a Russ Meyer film of the 1970s – or to decorate a Clockwork Orange-themed boutique”.
As well as illustrating his own written works, including The Sink of Solitude, a satire on the 1928 British lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness, Egan provided artwork for books such as those by the Marquis de Sade.
Though these are sometimes described as ‘decadent’, the artist denied the characterisation, insisting that he wanted to show people “the ugliness of what they are doing and so crush their foolish idealising”.
More of Egan’s works will be available at Sim’s 10th anniversary Holding the Line exhibition this autumn.