Sunday, February 26, 2012

George Mallory

This is George Leigh Mallory (1886-1924) painted by Duncan Grant. If you don't know his tragic story then Wikipedia can fill you in on his exploits as a mountaineer - some believe the first to reach the summit of Everest, but he never made it back down again. He is credited with coining the phrase "because it's there", when asked why he wanted to climb Everest. He fell to his death and remarkably his body was found, in an astonishing state of preservation in 1999. Google, of course, will lead you to pictures of this but I wouldn't recommend it. Obviously 38 is still young and no age to die, but when Mallory was younger still he was friends with the movers and shakers of the Bloomsbury Group. Last year R and I saw the Bloomsbury exhibition at Brighton Museum and this portrait of Mallory was there along with the topmost of the two photographs below. I was absolutely sure that the curatorial blurb about the photo and picture described Mallory and Grant as lovers but, not having a biography of either of them to hand I am unable to check up on this although, elsewhere on the Internet, I see that he is linked instead with James Strachey, brother of the more famous Lytton: that at least seems to have been the take on it from his biographer. 

He was, it seems, quite the stunner. The photograph below is, in real life, quite stunning, much richer and deeper than I could reproduce it here.  Arthur Benson, no less, wrote in his diary of Mallory's "strikingly beautiful face". Mallory's former tutor Graham Irving said of the same face, "its shape, its delicately cut features, especially its rather large, heavy lashed, thoughtful eyes, were extraordinarily suggestive of a Botticelli Madonna, even when he had ceased to be a boy - although any suspicion of effeminacy was completely banished by obvious proofs of physical energy and strength" (let the reader understand). Sir Geoffrey Keynes also couldn't resist the art references, "with good looks in the Botticelli style... with the build of an ideal athlete unspoilt by over development of any part." Clearly, men and women both were quickly and powerfully taken by this young man. He eventually went on to marry and have a family before being lost forever on the mountain.

The photos below were taken at 38 Brunswick Square in about 1912, so George is 25 or 26. Just seeing the top photo 'in the flesh' was enough to recreate some of the power that his bodily presence obviously had in life. I think I fell in love a little right there in the gallery. The existence of these nude photos give added poignance to the end of his life and to the photographs which exist of his body on the mountain, still half clothed and bleached white, as though in a black and white photo.


J said...

Hubba hubba...

lanne said...

I understand Duncan grant took other nude photos of Mallory besides these two. Were there other ones there and if not who has them? I'm asking because someone had to have seen them displayed somewhere or there wouldn't be mention of them. I enjoyed this piece very much. thank you.

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