A large signed and dated 1917 oil on canvas by Margaret Lindsay Williams, the important Royal Academy award winning Welsh artist. Williams has the distinction of being the lone artist to have had a studio in Westminster Abbey. Along with her darkly beautiful fine art, she painted portraits of Queen Alexandria and The Prince of Wales. In 1922, amidst much hoopla, she was brought to the US to paint President Harding’s portrait. This remarkable large work bears its label from a 1917 London’s Royal Academy exhibition. This is an important large decorative dark masterwork from an artist of the utmost historical significance.
In the early 20th century, the chaste Victorian morality began to give way to a more sexually and socially emancipated vision of femininity. This change was seen as both exciting and perilous and often times the new modern diva would be depicted in front of her vanity in a trompe l’oeil metamorphic scene. These trick of the eye artworks often depicted a skull emerging from within a woman’s reflection as she sat before her vanity, creating a metaphorically fraught double image. The most famous of these was “All is Vanity” by Charles Allan Gilbert. The title and imagery in this work play upon the same anxieties concerning the new 20th century modern woman, but Williams expresses the conflict much more explicitly in “The Devil’s Daughter.” The sitter here is vainly posed with fan, wearing a bat encrusted hat, holding a human skull coyly recoiling from a crucifix that is being menaced from the shadows. It is a fascinating and important take on Romantic modernism and the paradoxes of femininity in the early 20th century, with tremendous fine art and cultural appeal.
While not explicitly confirmed, it is widely believed that this painting hung for years in Black Sabbath’s recording studio in London. There is reportedly a companion painting still hanging there – where the woman, repentant, is shown returning from the darkness, embracing the crucifix.
Work has been recently cleaned and framed. In all ways this is a provocative, beautiful and important large-scale work of art.
WILLIAMS, MARGARET LINDSAY (1888-1960), artist; b. 18 June 1888, daughter of Samuel Arthur Williams, Barry Dock, Glam., who had a flourishing business as shipbroker in Cardiff, and Martha Margaret (née Lindsay) his wife. The daughter had private tuition before entering Cardiff Technical College where she won a gold medal for art. After a year working in Pelham school of art, London, she moved to the Royal Academy in 1906 where she was a brilliant student, winning 4 silver medals, a travelling scholarship, a landscape prize, and in 1911 a gold medal for her painting “The city of refuge”. She received a number of important public commissions before she was thirty, including “The Rt. Hon. Lloyd George, Prime Minister, unveiling the National Statuary at Cardiff”, 1919, and “The National Welsh War Service in Westminster Abbey”, 1924. Among her early works are landscapes and titled paintings, some revealing an unusual and original imagination, such as “The devil’s daughter” and “The triumph” which were exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1917. Nevertheless, she inclined more and more to portraiture after the war and among her sitters were clients as varied as Henry Ford, Field Marshall Slim and Ivor Novello (see above), as well as many members of the royal family.
Margaret Lindsay Williams worked for most of her life in London, but she was deeply committed to Wales and Welsh art. She was close to leaders of the national revival before World War I, when she portrayed Welsh topics as in her series of watercolours, “Maidens of Llyn-y-fan”. She enthusiastically supported the National Eisteddfod, and W. Goscombe John was one of her friends. It is appropriate that Sir O. M. Edwards should be among the considerable number of Welshmen portrayed by her. It was she who created the image of him which remains in the minds of the public to the present day in the portait which she painted 26 yrs. after his death. Margaret Lindsay Williams was a member of the South Wales Art Society, the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion and the Gorsedd of Bards. Examples of her work are at the National Museum of Wales and in private and public collections throughout south Wales. She died June 4th 1960.