Michael Ayrton (1921-1975)

Ayrton was an English artist and writer who worked as a painter, printmaker, sculptor and designer, and also as a critic and broadcaster.

He was also a stage and costume designer, working with John Minton on the 1942 John Gielgud production of Macbeth at just 19 years old. He designed and illustrated Wyndham Lewis’ The Human Age trilogy. He also collaborated on projects with Constant Lambert and William Golding.

In 1977 Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery held a major retrospective of his work which subsequently went on tour.

Michael Ayrton (1921-1975), El Desdichado (The Unlucky One), 1944


19 ½ x 24 in (49.5 x 60.5 cm)
Signed and dated April-May 44

The subject of Michael Ayrton’s painting is taken from a famous sonnet by the French Romantic poet, Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855). The story is an autobiographical tale of a mysterious knight in black armour, who has lost his fortune and is forbidden to court the lady he loves.

The picture is one of the artist’s most lyrical and beautiful neo-Romantic works. This period in his art had close ties with developments in other areas of the arts (most especially with films in the period) and this work was originally owned by the actress Lilli Palmer.

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