We are grateful to Catherine Lampert for her kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present work.
Behind the austere gravitas of Uglow’s monumental nudes lies an urgency, an unrelenting necessity to scrutinise and capture the human body in painted form - what Uglow termed the 'emergency' of the model in the studio. Though Uglow’s still-lifes are much beloved, reproduced and mimicked, it is his near life-size figure paintings, his ‘machines’ produced from the mid-1970s until his premature death in 2000 that are arguably the greatest achievement of his career, works such as The Diagonal (1971-7, the Estate of John Paul Getty Jr) and Girl Tree (1989-91, Collection of Paul Carbone, Chicago). Ambitious in scale and intent, these paintings emerge simultaneously from the cerebral and the material as rigorous examinations of anatomy, flesh, movement, geometry, form and the dynamic between painter and model. ‘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 Gallery, London, 1989, p.59). The first of four such works in a similar pose, this painting, depicting the model, Alex Morland, Striding Figure, 1975, never before seen on the auction market, is a synthesis of the principal concerns that preoccupied Uglow 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. Whilst at the Slade, ‘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, op.cit., 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. 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).
Uglow moved into his studio and home, in Turnchapel Mews, Battersea, in 1958. In his upstairs studio, Uglow would create elaborate set-ups, covered with chalk marks, plumb lines, and nails, whilst his models were instructed to adopt very specific poses. The blue of Striding Figure, the colour that would become indelibly associated with his work, came from the commercial bleach powder, Reckitt’s Blue. For the present work, it was rubbed directly into the wet plaster of the studio wall, fresco-like in colour and substance, and recreated on the canvas. Flooding the background, the colour blue itself becomes a protagonist in the scene, a mesmeric presence. Profoundly influenced by the Early Renaissance, Uglow compared this blue to that of Giotto’s Arena Chapel fresco cycle whilst Masaccio’s Trinity was the precedent he referenced when explicating the internal geometry of his paintings. Uglow’s geometry was two-fold: the indices of ‘straight painting’ recorded in a self-proclaiming multitude of colours and the geometry he discovered in, or imposed upon, the composition in the first place. ‘For fifteen or twenty years I’ve always used proper shapes. I try to make the rectangle as proper a part of the painting as drawing an eyelash.’ (Euan Uglow quoted in Martin Golding, op.cit., p.18). The internal structure that governs Striding Figure pivots on the model’s pubis. The central vertical and horizontal axes intersect at this dark triangle, which, in turn, echoes the triangle of her outstretched legs. The vertical axis skims her nose, right nipple and gentle curving belly. Rigorously analysed and deliberately corporeal, Uglow’s nude of Striding Figure is nonetheless seen at a remove. She is strange and unknowable, "a thing apart”, and yet a vision magnetic and unforgettable. (Martin Golding, op. cit., p.9).
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