In 1965 Jehan Daly wrote to Ruth Borchard:
‘I hope this little painting will interest you, it was painted when I was a student at the Royal College of Art just after the war and before the problems and frustrations of art made me grow bald.’
She paid twenty-one guineas.
An air of studious, aloof refinement and relaxed dedication characterises Daly’s small 1950 self-portrait. It may be the case that many self-portraits of men smoking a pipe possess, by their very nature, a guarded quality; perhaps the pipe serves as a kind of defensive emotional prop or shield. In Daly’s self-portrayal in profile, his visible eye is not at all prominently shown; it is partly occluded too by his glasses. His withdrawn, sensitive mien is in fact evoked through the most stringently sensuous means. The pale, sallow skin, with its slightly flushed cheek, the fine brown hair (perhaps just starting to thin), nostril, ear and slightly agape, pipe-balancing mouth – all are painted with scrupulous objectivity.
Jehan Daly was born in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, Wales to a French mother (hence the spelling of his first name – medieval French in origin – pronounced ‘John’) and an Irish-born father, the artist and art teacher William Edward Daly. He enrolled at the Royal College in 1937. A fellow student, the painter John Ward recalled, in a 1993 Daly catalogue foreword, that they studied together under
‘Professor Gilbert Spencer, the brother of the great Stanley… [Jehan] drew constantly… He would only work at his own pace. He always managed to live in a quiet, undusted elegance… over his work he will brook no interference, no dictation, no compromise. He has sought neither honours nor wealth – I have not even dared to ask him his views on this exhibition.’
Ward and Daly both enlisted in 1939 in the Royal Engineers, and after the war returned as students to the Royal College. For many years, Daly supported himself as a teacher in London art schools.
His later crayon still-lifes of, say, a lemon on a saucer, or hot cross buns, or a walnut and nutcrackers, or a doll’s house in a country house interior, capture the everyday with elegant precision and deceptive simplicity. His perfectionist artistry belongs to an earlier age, yet he captures the here and now quite immaculately.