Mystery girl in new National Portrait Gallery Show

Scandal '63 draws together portraits associated with The Profumo Affair, including a sketch of a mysterious witness
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Christine Keeler by Stephen Ward, pastel, c.1961 © National Portrait Gallery, London
Christine Keeler by Stephen Ward, pastel, c.1961 © National Portrait Gallery, London

The British political scandal of 1963 hastened the decline of the country's conservative government and signaled the rise of a more licentious, liberal society. At its centre lay Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, who had embarked on a brief affair with the nightclub hostess Christine Keeler two years earlier, despite Profumo being married and Keeler's involvement with the senior Russian naval attaché Yevgeny Ivanov. Any likelihood of British secrets being passed from Profumo to the Russians always seemed slim, yet this hot mix of bigamy, official denials, and libertine pool parties in the British countryside proved irresistible for British press and public.

To mark the event's 50th anniversary, The National Portrait Gallery has assembled a collection of portraits, press photos, newspaper cartoons and promotional movie material, all drawn from the event and its subsequent coverage into a new show called Scandal '63: The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Profumo Affair.

 

Christine Keeler, 1963, by Lewis Morley
Christine Keeler, 1963, by Lewis Morley

There, is, of course, the well-known Lewis Morley photograph of Chrstine Keeler astride a (fake, as it turned out) Arne Jacobsen Series 7 chair. However, lesser-known works on show for the first time at the gallery, portray a mysterious face. The drawing is by Stephen Ward, amateur artist and high-society osteopath, who first introduced Profumo to Keeler at the Clivedon, a British country estate in July 1961.

On the front of this pastel piece, there's a portrait of Keeler. Yet on the reverse is a similar drawing of a short-haired, full lipped girl. A note from Keeler dated 3 March 1975 states "I don't know who the girl on the back is - she is somebody we just picked up at a bus-stop."

 

Christine Keeler by Stephen Ward, pastel, c.1961 (c) National Portrait Gallery, London
Christine Keeler by Stephen Ward, pastel, c.1961 (c) National Portrait Gallery, London

This account tallies with a passage in Keeler's memoir, Scandal!, which describes she and Ward picking up a girl from a bus-stop on their way to a party at Cliveden. Ward committed suicide in 1963, while on trail for 'living off the immoral earnings' of Keeler and others. However, The Times and other newspapers have likened Ward's drawing to an unnamed witness, dubbed Miss X, who testified against Ward in his trial.


Whether the exhibition will uncover the identity of Ward's sitter is unclear. Yet the exhibition, opening today and running until 15 September, illuminates an interesting passage in recent British history, in a novel, and intriguing way.

 

Unknown woman by Stephen Ward, pastel, c.1961 (c) National Portrait Gallery, London
Unknown woman by Stephen Ward, pastel, c.1961 (c) National Portrait Gallery, London

To find our more, go to The National Portrait Gallery's site. For more on this story, go here. If you know who Miss X is, please get in touch. And for further great images from the 20th century, consider our Century book which draws together the images that shaped modern history. And, if the chair intrigues you as much as the young lady on it, check out Design Classics and A Taxonomy of Office Chairs. 


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