We are grateful to Catherine Lampert for her kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present work.
With carefully structured figures, composed within a framework of reference points, the appearance of Uglow's works is that they are exact representations. As such, it would be easy to infer that his paintings are a forensic study into the physiognomy and character of his sitters. However, in his own words: ‘I’m painting an idea not an ideal. Basically I’m trying to paint a structured painting full of controlled, and therefore potent, emotion. I won’t let chance be there unless it’s challenged.’ (Euan Uglow, quoted in ‘Snatches of Conversation’ with Andrew Lambirth, Euan Uglow, exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1989, p.59). His remarkable diligence and focus are not, therefore, an examination of an individual but a type. Without being cold, they are undoubtedly calculated and enable the work to become fully detached from the sitter’s feminine and personal identity and become a study of the human form. The female nude is a visual theme that has invariably been returned to for its titillating connotations, however, Uglow has developed his manner of presentation to a level beyond petty voyeurism, achieved directly through the precision and dispassion of the sitter.
The influence of Italian Renaissance painting on Uglow’s work is well documented and immediately obvious in the present work. Drawing quite directly from luminaries such as Masaccio and Piero della Francesca the almost architectural organisation of space and the solidity imbues the figures with grandeur and gravitas. He was utterly guided by the careful geometric systems and their balanced compositions, implementing these processes. In 1953 Uglow won a Prix de Rome travel scholarship, which enabled him to visit Italy, and to study the Renaissance masters that so inspired him. 'Precedents for portraits abounded in his beloved Quattrocento Italy, where needle-sharp focus and austere design characterised the likenesses of mighty rulers and individuals whose identities have been lost. Among them are Piero della Francesca’s iconic profiles of Federigo da Montefeltro and his wife…in which uncanny stillness is suggestive of timeless, and exceptional detail from foreground to distance speaks of sustained attention to the visible world.' (Richard Kendall, ‘Uglow at Work: The Formative Years’, in Catherine Lampert, Euan Uglow, The Complete Paintings, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007, p.xxvi)
Most immediately, the present work is unusual within Uglow’s oeuvre as the sitter is not face-on to the viewer. The slouched back is accentuated, a feature which seems to be out of step with the solidity and comportment of many of Uglow’s other figures, such Miss Venne, 1967 (Private Collection). This in some ways provides a gentler interaction between viewer and sitter, suffusing the work with a more contemplative, spiritual quality. By breaking the direct interaction between sitter and viewer, the viewer is permitted to approach with less immediacy, and the work encourages a more measured communication with the figure. Furthermore, the rich flesh tones, and mandarin and powdered grey walls working together to enhance this mood, applied with a cultured lightness of touch. In many ways, the lack of rigid symmetry in this work also makes the composition much more human, and less an investigation into the 'type', which Uglow most frequently negotiates.
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