We are grateful to Catherine Lampert for her kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present work.
Sensuous, visually compelling, and underlined by a rigorous sense of order and visual analysis, Beautiful Girl Lying Down (1958-9) is one of Uglow’s most accomplished female nudes, a subject that gripped the artist throughout his distinguished career. Part of a generation of painters who countered the prevailing drift and resisted the pull of abstraction, Uglow turned his attention to still life, landscape and, perhaps most significantly, depictions of the nude form in order to push the boundaries and definitions of figurative painting through his own disciplined aesthetic.
Uglow’s insistent scrutinising and observing of the human body in order to capture it in painted form resulted in a series of monumental nudes, which are simultaneously austere and urgent. They are vigorous examinations of anatomy, flesh, movement, geometry, form and the dynamic between painter and model and the present work is one of the earliest examples painted by Uglow to synthesise these principal concerns that would preoccupy him throughout his career.
Uglow studied first at Camberwell School of Art from 1947 until 1950 and then moved to the Slade in 1951, where he was taught by William Coldstream, Claude Rogers, Victor Pasmore and Sam Carter alongside fellow students Craigie Aitchison and Michael Andrews. During his period of study in the 1950s Uglow was able to meet, and engage in discourse with, some of the most stimulating artists working in the post-war period, both in Britain and abroad. These included Alberto and Diego Giacometti, and in London, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, and Leon Kossoff, with whom he would develop a close friendship. Uglow was a part of this group of artists who were looking to the portrayal of the human figure as a means of creative expression, as a suitable subject for the uncertainty and unease of the post-war period. While each developed radically divergent styles in their approach to the figure, they were all extremely concerned with the process of looking, there was a penetrating analysis with which they approached the subject. As Uglow recalled: ‘Nobody has ever looked at you as intensively as I have.’ (Euan Uglow, unpublished interview, 1989, reprinted in Richard Kendall, ‘Uglow at Work: the Formative Years’, in Catherine Lampert, Euan Uglow, The Complete Paintings, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, p.ix). What separated Uglow from his contemporaries was his meticulous method, which resulted in paintings that have a subtle clarity and beautiful austerity, and which contrast so forcefully with, for example, Kossoff and Auerbach’s thickly and vigorously applied layers of impasto.
It was at the Slade that Uglow first began to develop his technique. At the time ‘measuring was going around’, as Uglow said of the ‘straight painting’ technique adopted by Claude Rogers and many of the students (Euan Uglow, quoted in Martin Golding, ‘Euan Uglow’s Nudes’, Euan Uglow, exh. cat., Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1989, p.11). This process involved holding out one’s paint brush at arm’s length to check and record coordinates, positioning, and perspective – anything the eye observed was measured and marked on the canvas. This series of dots and dashes which delineated and plotted the form, broke the concept of the body down into an arrangement of individual volumes, which were distinguished by lines and area of shade. These annotations peppering the composition are, as Uglow explained, ‘to do with what happened today, yesterday and the month before… a chart or diary of what happened…’ (Euan Uglow, quoted in ‘Snatches of Conversation’, op.cit., p.59).
Beautiful Girl Lying Down was the first major nude Uglow completed following his time at the Slade. Uglow recalled that he painted the present work while he ‘was a conscientious objector and the girl used to pose every weekend for me.’ (Euan Uglow, 21st May 2000, quoted in Catherine Lampert, Euan Uglow, op. cit., p.38.) The sitter for the present painting is the artist Natalie (Tilly) Dower, who was Euglow’s girlfriend at the time and Catherine Lampert has noted that Uglow purposefully positioned her in a way which would not expose too much of her body to the viewer’s harsh gaze. In terms of Uglow’s process, the present work differs from his later monumental nudes, in that it was painted from someone he cared deeply about. It became much more common practice later in his career to utilise professional models. The rendering is particularly compassionate and tender, as she reclines in an uncluttered anonymous space which sets up the strict geometry of the composition, on a blanket painted in Giottoesque blue. This blue was inspired by Giotto’s frescoes at the Arena Chapel in Padua, and the colour came to be so often associated with Uglow’s work.
Following on from the completion of Beautiful Girl Lying Down, Uglow began to formalise his intensive working process in order to facilitate his vision. He rigorously controlled the painting environment, ensuring that he and the model were always positioned in the same spot with marks and annotations, with consistent lighting and props, and sought to minimise any extraneous factors - even reportedly complaining to models about the effects of sunbathing on the changes to skin tone. His models would typically sit for a period of three hours or more, and the process of completing a painting could go on for a series of months or even years. This intensive and lengthy process required a great commitment from both the artist and the model, which was often difficult or impossible to sustain, with models in some cases simply disappearing, and having to be quickly replaced with another of a similar body type. Uglow joked that for one picture the model started when she had a boyfriend, she then married and by the time the work was completed she was divorced.
Uglow captured over these repeated sessions something which was transient and changing, tiny permutations which recorded the ageing and fragility of the body and its natural decay, as well as the fallacy of permanence that the final painted image represented. He commented on the sense of urgency with which he documented what he observed: ‘I think it’s very important that people draw from models because there’s an emergency. My Silk Cut packet can be there until next year, whereas a model can get run over when she goes and has her coffee. So there’s always that emergency, and one’s always interested in other people. Of course it is relevant today- drawing is the most immediate way of making your intentions manifest. You wouldn’t think that when I spend six months on a drawing, but it is.’ (Euan Uglow, interviewed by Andrew Lambirth, Euan Uglow : Paintings and Drawings from the Estate, Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd, London, 2007, unpaginated).
Rigorously analysed and deliberately corporeal, Beautiful Girl Lying Down is an early example of Uglow’s interest in controlled inspections of the body, it integrates the main interests which would consume his later works, but she is nonetheless seen at a remove. She is strange and unknowable, ‘a thing apart,’ and yet a vision magnetic and unforgettable. (Martin Golding, 'Euan Uglow’s Nudes’, Euan Uglow, Whitechapel Art Gallery, op.cit., p.9).
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