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Artwork of the Month - February 2007


The Old Monk

Artist: The Hon. Marion Saumarez (1885 - 1978)
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Status: Permanent collection
Item No.: GMAG 2004.20

Character Portraits

The person sitting for this portrait is not in-fact a Monk, but an Italian model, Marion Saumarez had met in Paris. The painting is not dated but it can be presumed that this portrait was painted in the early 1900's when Marion was living in Paris. She most likely chose this particular model, and the monk's costume, in order to describe a 'character', rather than a specific individual.

Character portraits became popular from the Baroque period onwards, and the practice of dressing the sitter in fanciful costume, to add interest to a painting, can be found in portraits by artists such as Rembrandt. This fashion continued into the 18th Century with artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds. By the 19th century, using fancy-dress had become a popular way of adding humour, melancholy or romanticism to a painting. Peasant costume was a popular choice; used as a form of escapism from the hustle and bustle of gentrified city life.

Marion Saumarez (1885 - 1978)

Marion Saumarez, as she is usually known, was actually Marion de Saumarez, the daughter of James, fourth Lord de Saumarez. Her mother, Lady de Saumarez (née Jane Anne Broke), was the heiress of seven large houses and land in Suffolk

Marion had two sisters Evelyn and Gladys and one brother St Vincent.

Marion's father had a great interest in the Arts and he passed this interest on to his daughter. When Marion was young, her father spent time travelling in Europe and he used this opportunity to educate his two elder daughters. He encouraged Evelyn and Marion to visit beautiful buildings and museums in whatever country they were in at the time.

The Académie Julian

In the early 1900's Lord de Saumarez took an apartment in Paris, which gave Marion an ideal opportunity to develop her interest in painting; she enrolled at the Académie Julian for seven years. This French Art Academy, founded by Rodolphe Julian was groundbreaking in that it offered women the same training in art as men, and enabled them to draw from nude models. This was forbidden in most European Academies, which hampered the training of women artists.


Later in life Marion moved to her parent's English Country House, Shrubland Park in Suffolk, to nurse them as they grew older. Eventually she moved to the village of Grantchester. Throughout her life, Marion continued to paint, as well as keeping in contact with fellow artists. Her paintings can be found in both private and public collections. An example of her work can be seen at St Andrew's Church, Tostock, Suffolk, which contains the painting 'The Altar Of Sacrifice' which was commissioned as a Parish Memorial to those who died in the First World War.