‘Portrait of Dorette’ by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst

‘Portrait of Dorette’, a black chalk drawing by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst – £46,000 at Rosebery’s.

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Offered at the West Norwood saleroom on February 15, the 14.5x 11.5in (37 x 29cm) black chalk drawing on paper was titled Portrait of Dorette.

Dorette was the artist’s nickname for Woodward, who became Brockhurst’s muse and appeared in many of his works. They had first met in 1929 when she was just 16 but had already started modelling at the Royal Academy Schools in London where Brockhurst was a visiting professor, 20 years her senior.

She later featured in his controversial 1932 etching, Adolescence, which depicts her sitting naked in front of a mirror.

Brockhurst was still married to his first wife, Anaïs Mélisande Folin, when he started an affair with Woodward, something which scandalised high society and was only heightened as he exhibited portraits of his young lover at every Royal Academy Summer Exhibition from 1933 to 1939.

While these portraits helped Brockhurst gain extra attention (or notoriety), they also demonstrated his technical abilities with their high level of detail and dramatic lighting which helped earn him commissions from the likes of J Paul Getty.

After Brockhurst and Woodward emigrated to the US in 1939, he continued to paint high-profile sitters and could count Marlene Dietrich to Wallis Simpson among his sitters – the portrait of the latter is now in the National Portrait Gallery.

He and Woodward eventually married in 1947.

Intimate sketch

Unlike most of Brockhurst’s 1930s portraits of Woodward, the drawing in South London did not show her in a guise from literature and mythology but was instead a more direct and intimate sketch. According to the Roseberys catalogue, the portraits of her from this period are known for “demonstrating the influence of Leonardo da Vinci’s 'Mona Lisa' on the artist, shown here in the piercing yet sensual gaze of the sitter”.

A portrait of Woodward was always likely to be valuable commercial proposition. Examples of paintings and works on paper depicting ‘Dorette’ can be found in public collections in the UK and US, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Works by Brockhurst have also received a boost after a record $290,000 (£228,350) was bid for his portrait of the film star Merle Oberon at Heritage Auctions in 2019.

The estimate of £8000-12,000 at Roseberys therefore always looked likely to be surpassed and, on the day, it duly drew strong competition before it was knocked down at £46,000.

The sum appears to be the second highest for a portrait drawing by the artist, only behind the £55,000 for a sketch of Marlene Dietrich that sold at Sotheby’s in 2008.