Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Adrian Stokes and the Portrait of Melanie Klein

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Adrian Stokes and the Portrait of Melanie Klein

Article excerpt

The art writer Adrian Stokes was 49 and the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein was nearing 70 when in early January 1952 he offered to commission and pay for a portrait of her by the 44-year-old artist William Coldstream. What was Klein's response? And what was its outcome and aftermath in Stokes's subsequent writing about Klein and Coldstream? Before answering these questions I will recount some of the precursors of Stokes's offer in his preceding involvement first with Klein and then with Coldstream.


Stokes first met Klein after his innovative work, detailing the inspiration of art by the physical material from which it is made, was brought to a standstill by what she described as "severe inhibition in work and deep depression" (Klein, 1932, p. 264). After a couple of years of psychoanalytic treatment by her he located the source of such inhibitions in "an overplus of anxiety", rooted in "some of the positive and negative figures" that had "most influenced his life" (Stokes, 1933, pp. 527, 528).

As a result, he managed to overcome his severe inhibition in work by completing several articles and four books through which he helped bring about a revolution in architecture, sculpture, painting, and in modern dance by emphasizing their inspiration by the physical material from which they are made. This resulted in his becoming highly acclaimed as an innovative art writer by late summer 1935 when he ended his over six years of psychoanalytic treatment by Klein and began learning to paint.

In 1937 Coldstream helped Stokes get some of his paintings taken on by the Lefevre Galleries in London. He also taught Stokes to paint as a student at the Euston Road school of drawing and painting by which time Coldstream had developed a technique of portrait painting of which another student wrote

The brush is held at arm's length - care being taken that the arm is fully extended for each measurement - in such a way that it is in a plane at right angles to the line from the artist's eye to whatever part of the subject he is looking at ... If for instance the top of the brush handle against the corner of the sitter's mouth, the thumb nail can be moved down to the level of the lowest point of the chin. This length on the handle is then compared with another distance down or across the model's head ...

(in Laughton, 1986, p. 157)

Coldstream's resulting meticulous approach to transforming the threedimensional reality of the subject into a two-dimensional painted portrait could result in his requiring the subject to grant him forty or more sittings as occurred when, for instance, he was completing a portrait of the poet Stephen Spender's wife, Inez, in 1938.

At the same time Stokes combined work as one of Coldstream's art students with starting psychoanalytic treatment with Klein again in January 1938 - treatment which ended after Stokes married and moved with another of Coldstream's students, Margaret Mellis, to live near St Ives in Cornwall. From there Stokes kept in contact with Klein and Coldstream. Then, having left Cornwall in August 1946, Stokes again started psychoanalytic treatment with Klein that autumn during the turmoil of his marriage to Margaret ending due to his having fallen in love with her younger sister Ann.

After the finalization of his divorce from Margaret, he married Ann in May 1947 in Switzerland (at the time almost the only country where it was not illegal incest for him to marry Ann as the sister of his still living ex-wife). From Switzerland he wrote to Klein, sent her gifts, reviewed her book, Contributions to Psycho-Analysis, agreed to her inviting herself to visit him, Ann, and their son Philip in Switzerland, and, encouraged by Klein, incorporated some of her ideas in an autobiographical book, Smooth and Rough.

Klein encouraged and helped Stokes with this book which was published after his return with Ann and Philip from Switzerland to England, and just before Ann gave birth to Stokes's daughter, Ariadne, in May 1951 and the family moved that September to Hurtwood House in Surrey. …

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