Sir Peter Blake, R.A.
- Sir Peter Blake, R.A.
- the national gallery madonna
- signed, titled and dated 1994-2000 on the canvas overlap
- oil on canvas
- 122 by 91.5cm.; 48 by 36in.
London, National Gallery, Now we are 64: Peter Blake at the National Gallery, 25 September 1996 - 5 January 1997, with tour to The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester;
Liverpool, Tate, Peter Blake: A Retrospective, 29 June - 23 September 2007.
Natalie Rudd, Peter Blake, Tate Publishing, London 2003, pp.94-8, illustrated p.97, fig.82.
In 1993, Blake was invited to become an Associate Artist at the National Gallery in London, the third in the scheme (this ongoing programme has included artists as diverse as Paula Rego, Alison Watt and Ron Mueck). Whilst at first sight Blake's pop credentials and deep love of folk art might seem at odds with such a suggestion, his art has always been one of appropriation of earlier imagery and the brief to stage an exhibition of new work in response to the collection at the end of the two year tenure suggested a variety of possibilities.
Examination of the collection at first hand offered Blake an enormous range of new ideas far in excess of his initial thoughts and the possibilities of bringing his own particular kind of interpretative humour engendered paintings such as The Venuses' Outing to Weymouth (Waddington Galleries), or the series of The Nine Prettiest Bottoms in the National Gallery offer us a form of imagery that is classic Blake. However, in The National Gallery Madonna his approach was somewhat different. His own agnosticism might not suggest an obvious interest in the religious subject matter which is an inextricable part of a huge proportion of pre-twentieth-century painting but Blake seemed to recognise in this a form of painting which both offered itself for contemporary reinterpretation and also was redolent of the fantastic and other-worldly qualities that he had always evinced in his own art. In The National Gallery Madonna, Blake drew from a relatively obscure Northern Italian painter, Bartolomeo Montagna, whose own Virgin and Child of c.1485-7 hung in the reserve collection, and set out, like countless artists before, including Montagna himself, to translate the eternal imagery into the context of his own time. Whilst retaining the essentials of the pose of mother and child, Blake based the Virgin's features on the model Cecilia Chancellor, and replaced the background with a view of contemporary London as seen from the National Gallery itself. By thus questioning the use of models for the figure of the Virgin, which of course had always been the case for every artist's rendering of the subject, and the veracity of the physical settings for the subject, Blake rather deftly approached the question of whether the subject of such paintings was indeed spiritual or was actually more concerned with the mother and child relationship. Like Henry Moore, whose Northampton Madonna carving in 1943 had raised for him similar questions, Blake seems to have found that the most obvious subject matter can often be a vehicle for a much wider range of concepts.