These short biographies of the sitters often lack detail. I would be most grateful for any further information, via the contact page.
Sir (Barnett) Lionel Abrahams, KCB [1869-1919]
A cousin, by virtue of his marriage in 1896 to Lucy, daughter of Nathan Solomon Joseph (below). Long before my father met my mother (a Joseph) Lionel nominated him for the Navy, which was necessary in those days.
The only son of Mordecai Abrahams, secretary to the Initiation Society, he headed the civil service list in 1893, joining the India Office. There he was John Maynard Keynes's mentor on Indian finance, and eventually became its Assistant Secretary. He ‘was among the first consciously to implement the gold exchange standard, which enabled countries to settle their external accounts in major currencies, helping thereby to reduce their dependence on gold and expand world trade. India became a pioneer of this new system when the rupee was placed on it at the turn of the century, and during the next few years Abrahams perfected the type of management and intervention the gold exchange standard required to make its working mimic the gold standard’. His contributions were of ‘high importance in the development of ideas on central banking‘, of which he was an early, if somewhat unconventional, exponent. Nor was he loath to advance unorthodox policies such as floating the rupee exchange rate to mitigate the impact of an unstable global environment on the Indian economy. Floating exchange rates too had few supporters when he proposed them in 1919. But both this idea and the gold exchange standard were adopted widely in later years.
With Lord Rothschild and other Jewish grandees, in December 1917, he was a member of a committee formed to convene a conference of Anglo-Jewry to consider means of furthering the policy laid down in the Balfour Declaration of the previous month. He was a member of the Jewish Board of Guardians, and President of Jewish Historical Society of England from 1916-18.
Their only son, Arthur Charles Lionel, was born in 1898 and was a King’s Scholar at Westminster School, where his father was also at school, before going up to Christ Church, Oxford. He joined the Coldstream Guards in 1916: according to the war diary ‘In April 1918 the Guards Division took part in the Battle of the Lys and fought at Hazebrouck and the Nieppe forest, latterly alongside the Australians. Although the Germans were held, casualties were very high—one Brigade alone (the 4th Guards) lost 39 officers and 1,244 men from the 12th to 14th April’. He was killed in action at Merville on 13 April, fighting with the 3rd Battalion, the battalion’s only officer casualty. His grave is unmarked, and he is commemorated at the Great War Memorial. According to her nephew, Lucy wore mourning ever after, black or grey taffeta, and a maid did her elaborate hair every day: Lionel’s hair went white overnight from grief.
A further portrait of Sir Lionel Abrahams, by Walter Stoneman, is at the NPG.
Source: DNB and personal knowledge.
A new category for this site, and not uncommon, paintings of recognisable though unknown sitters. Now there are two by Ruth Collet.
Bridget (Biddie) Bishop [1910-2003]
The clothes in Gwen John’s pictures are often unremarkable and difficult to date: an exception is the unfinished Portrait of Miss Bridget Sarah Bishop, c 1928. Bridget was the eldest daughter of my great-aunt Louise Salaman, a close friend of Gwen’s at the Slade where she was with her brother Michel (see below), the Johns and the rest of an exceptional cohort.
Bridget was in Paris throughout the late autumn, winter and spring 1928-29 and following an evening together Louise proposed that Gwen paint the eighteen-year-old Bridget’s portrait.
There was much temporising by Gwen both before the sitting (the first was on 2 March 1929) and after. It was Gwen who chose what Bridget was to wear, ‘blue-grey jacket and skirt, a silk and wool jersey of the same colour, with a necklace of Wedgwood beads, and a dark blue hat. She held a book on her lap and was posed against a plain uncurtained wall’. There were many sittings and one canvas at least was abandoned.
In the papers of Gwen John, purchased by the National Library of Wales, eight letters from Louise at Fyfield Manor, near Marlborough, to Gwen survive, six from after the sittings. They start with casual enquiries in June 1929 (‘does the hand not being finished upset the whole?’) and continue with references to how much she would like to have the portrait, could it be found, could it be finished and finally, in January 1934 how she believes that Gwen has forgotten the portrait of Biddie, but she so wants to have it and urges her to finish it.
Gwen never did finish the picture and it was with her until her death.
Source: Mary Taubman, Gwen John. Aldershot, 1988, NLW and personal knowledge.