One Yorkshire artist never to have received a mention in this column is David Jagger – and that, I freely confess, is because I had never heard of him. The oversight is rectified this week following the emergence at auction of a portrait, The Conscientious Objector, painted in 1917 when some 16,000 “conchies”, as they were dubbed, refused to fight in the Great War, usually on moral or religious grounds, after the Military Service Act of 1916 targeting single men aged 18-41.
The stylish and searching oil showing one of these men – looking serious but dressed with a touch of flamboyance in brown trilby and knotted pink scarf against a dark background – popped up at Bonhams, where it was afforded a modest £5,000-£8,000 estimate. But, because of renewed interest in Jagger and, perhaps, partly through recent publicity in this more forgiving age about those shot for cowardice, desertion or refusal to enlist, it fetched a new world record price for the artist of £115,300, nearly three more than the previous best.
Now, then, would be the perfect time to tell Jagger’s story. He was born in Kilnhurst, near Rotherham, in 1891, the youngest brother of sculptor Charles and landscape artist Edith. Their parents were colliery manager Enoch Jagger and his wife Mary Sargeant and while Charles was famous for a number of war memorials commemorating the Great War, such as those at Hyde Park Corner and Paddington Station in London, David was best known for his portrait of Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout Movement, and many other dignitaries.
All three siblings went to Sheffield School of Art and David later became a leading member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, exhibiting regularly there and at the Royal Academy and the Royal Society of British Artists. In 1940, the artistic trio exhibited together (Charles posthumously) in a special exhibition at Rotherham Art Gallery and Museum.
Apart from Lord Baden-Powell, the highly esteemed David’s many other notable portraits – all of them evocative, searching and drawing on the spirit of the sitter – included Queen Mary, the current Queen’s grandmother (1930) and Sir Winston Churchill (1926).
The reclusive David did not serve in the war, possibly because of ill-health, prompting brother Charles to record acidly before his death in 1918 after winning the Military Cross: “What that great hulking lout in his mother’s shop must feel like I don’t know.”
Whether the artist, like the man in the portrait, was himself a conscientious objector is doubtful but such men were often shamed by society and sent white feathers.
I was told that David Jagger, who died in 1958, may have been an ancestor of Rolling Stone Mick. Sadly, I can find no evidence they were related, the closest link being that the ageing rocker’s paternal grandfather and great-grandfather were both called David.