Walford Graham Robertson was a painter and later a playwright who, despite the playfully boyish air that permeates this picture, was already 28 years old when he sat for Sargent. And yet it’s hard not to imagine Robertson as a youth, trying on his father’s Chesterfield and handling his jade-handled cane. It remains unclear who tied the recumbent poodle’s yellow bow.
Walford Graham Robertson (1866–1948), portrait and landscape painter, book illustrator, theatrical costume designer, playwright and collector. He presented and bequeathed to the Tate Gallery over 20 paintings and drawings from his collection of works by William Blake, as well as the portrait of his grandmother, Mrs Greatorex, by Andrew Geddes, and other works.
This portrait shows him as a young man with his 11-year-old poodle ‘Mouton’ of the St Jean de Luz breed. Sargent had begun painting a portrait of the sitter's mother and also one of his friend the actress Ada Rehan. It was through Miss Rehan that the artist let it be known to Graham Robertson how much he wanted to paint him in his elegant long overcoat. Robertson agreed to this, but the hot summer weather made it impossible for him to wear such a thick garment unless he stripped himself of most of his other clothes. This paring down accentuated the slimness of his figure to the delight of Sargent, who draped the coat even more closely about him.
Sargent did not complete the portrait until after his return from France later in the year and had meanwhile seen for the first time Whistler's recently finished portrait of Comte Robert de Montesquiou, on exhibition at the Paris Salon. He was afraid that people would remark on the coincidental similarity in pose adopted by the two artists. An oil sketch on canvas, 36×28 in. (painted area, 15 1/2×28 in.), for this portrait was discovered under another canvas of ‘Mrs Russell Cooke’ (R.A. 1895 (647)) in August 1964 and lent anonymously to Birmingham Art Gallery, September–October 1964 (hors catalogue).
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II
Graham Robertson was an author, painter and collector who bequeathed to the Tate Gallery more than 20 paintings and drawings. He was 28 when he posed for this portrait together with his 11-year-old poodle, Mouton. John Singer Sargent presents Robertson as a London dandy, wearing a fur-collared full-length coat and leaning on a jade-handled cane. In his autobiography Robertson recalled that Sargent had insisted he wear the long coat even though it was summer. He also tried to make Robertson look as thin and youthful as possible.
Gallery label, July 2007