Ruth Borchard paid twenty-one guineas for Gerard de Rose’s self-portrait in 1966, which may have been painted specially for her. It presumably dates from c.1964-6, since it seems stylistically close to Rose’s other mid-sixties portraits. His handsome face looks ruggedly worn beyond its forty-five years; interestingly, a small black-and-white photograph of the artist in a 1966 exhibition catalogue, shows remarkably wrinkled features, topped by a still youthful head of thick, glossy, wavy hair.
De Rose was well known for perceptively isolating his subjects against stark or plain backgrounds: figures ‘standing alone in a room’ (to use Patrick Procktor’s description of his subjects). In his self-portrait, cool, abstract panels formed from dark grey lines against light grey help accentuate the appearance of his well-marked, rather washed-out countenance, bringing it into fully human relief. Yet the juxtaposition of black suit, black tie and white shirt – ‘sharp’ male gear at the time – and austere backdrop makes for an impeccably severe composition, made even more forbidding by the artist’s worn, desolate look.
De Rose was born in Accrington, Lancashire in 1921. His mother was British, and his father, a surgeon and professor of music, of Russian descent. He studied at Accrington School of Art, and then won a textile scholarship to the Royal College of Art in 1939, but was called up into the Royal Engineers at the outbreak of war, taking part in the Dunkirk evacuation. From 1946 to 1950 he studied painting at the R.C.A. He then taught until 1967 at various art colleges, by which time he was renowned as a portraitist of the cream of Swinging London – including Julie Christie, David Hockney and the Rolling Stones. In one portrait of Mick Jagger, the rock singer is reduced to beautiful isolation in a small corner of the picture. With generously tousled hair falling down on to one of his closed eyes, he is seen singing with ecstatic abandon.
De Rose also painted Trevor Howard, Claire Bloom, the Duke of Bedford, Morecambe and Wise, Sammy Davis Junior and Vladimir Nabokov (the latter portrait appearing on the front of Time magazine). He has been recalled as ‘a flamboyant character… a small man with red hair and a stutter… a convivial member of the Chelsea Arts Club, a skilled amateur magician and in his youth a formidable boxer’.