As in other paintings executed around that time, such as Paradise Bar 1974 (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond) and After Lunch 1975 (fig. 3, Tate, London), the formal austerity of the greater part of the painting’s surface is jarringly and gloriously broken by the sudden intrusion of a specified passage in a contrasting style or (as here) erupting into a burst of other colours. The spring daffodils picked out in the foreground, and the indication in the distance of a light-filled interior or atrium, introduce a blast of life into a setting that otherwise speaks of ceremonial grandeur and decorum. With characteristically gentle humour, even the pair of atlantes – the sculpted male torsos that frame the arch and appear to shoulder the weight of the pediment – appear overwhelmed with emotion at the sight of nature springing back into life. One might say that the flowers interject a soft, organic, feminine note into the otherwise brooding masculinity of the picture. The dusky greens, whites and pale lilac of this section describing a central void, so effective in opening up the illusion of pictorial depth, mark a release into the joy of pure fantasy. The strategy has a similar purpose and effect to the swift passage from dour black-and-white into sumptuous colour in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy leaves behind the mundane reality of life in Kansas for the wonders of the world of the imagination.
Forecourt, like Caulfield’s other paintings of architectural subjects at this time, was meticulously planned and diligently executed. An intricate pencil drawing was painstakingly enlarged and then transferred to the canvas (fig 1. , Study for `Forecourt', 1975, Pauline Caulfield). In this particular case, the drawing was almost entirely invented, with only the atlantes based on a photograph of an actual building of 1667, the Pavillon de Vendôme in Aix-en-Provence. As with so many of his eureka moments, the idea of including the flowers came to him in an idle interlude, while seated in a bar opposite the Serpentine and noticing the flower boxes.
The towering dimensions of this canvas do more than convey the vastness of the architecture it describes. By looming over the spectator, the painting replicates the sensation one might have when entering into such a space, designed to place the visitor in a state of awe. Caulfield always used scale with rigorous logic, habitually depicting things actual size: small paintings therefore were reserved for still-life subjects, the much larger canvases for architectural scenes. Standing before the painting, the viewer feels enveloped and immersed in it, subconsciously reinforcing the sensations aroused by the imagery through sheer physical impact. As one’s eyes scan the elevation, the perspective subtly changes, so that the succession of pedimented windows near the top edge of the canvas are powerfully experienced as seen from below. Caulfield plays on the oppressiveness of this massive architecture bearing down on you, then generously lightens both his palette and the mood to invite us to pierce that intimidating façade and to move towards the promise of a separate realm of light and open space.
Marco Livingstone, October 2013, author of Patrick Caulfield Paintings, Lund Humphries, Aldershot, 2005.
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