An aubade is a word derived from Provencal French meaning a song or poem appropriate to, or greeting, the dawn. It does not therefore take a great leap of imagination to see that this rather obscure word does seem especially appropriate for Wadsworth to include it in the title of his painting.
The early mist lifting above the emerald sea, the sharp strong shadows cast across the foreground, that sense of everything warming up as a prelude to a beautiful day, all these are combined with the apparently random objects in the painting to create an air of both strangeness and familiarity. Everything evokes the sea and a sense of leisure. Boating, fishing, games, a walk along the beach - as an album of photographs might prompt the memories of a journey, so Wadsworth offers us an image that feels filled with the halcyon promise of remembered days.
The paintings generally known under the collective title of the ‘marine still-lives’ are perhaps one of the most striking group of images not only in Wadsworth’s oeuvre but also in British painting of the period. Drawing upon trips to St.Tropez and Marseilles in the mid-1920s, they offer a continental sophistication with the tang of the Mediterranean. Wadsworth was always familiar with European currents, and certainly by the late-1920s knew the work of de Chirico, Jean Metzinger and Pierre Roy through his connection to the Parisian circles of the dealer Léonce Rosenberg. However, into the 1930s Wadsworth takes his subjects outside, making them much more part of their environment and in doing so he manages to imbue them with that special air that makes them so memorable. One cannot really hope to successfully evoke the sea without offering a sense of space and thus in paintings such as Marine Set (2) Aubade or Offing (City Museum & Art Gallery, Bristol) we are presented with just that. Using a trompe l’oeil wooden framework Wadsworth suspends a variety of maritime curiosities in a manner that the artist’s friend Moholy-Nagy felt reminded him of the mobiles of Alexander Calder, or which one might suggest delve even back further to the early baroque Spanish painter Juan Sánchez Cotán. These play with the ideas of lightness and weight (the darts fly, the shuttlecocks float, the pulley lifts) as well as making for a rather pleasing composition which can hardly fail to draw from our memory days by the sea, where maybe we too greeted such a morning.
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