Catalogue entry

Norman Blamey born 1914

T04116 Decoy Duck and Self Portrait 1984-5

Oil on cotton sheet laid on board 1220 x 1220 (48 x 48)
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1985
Prov: Purchased from the artist by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1985
Exh: RA, 1985 (568)

T04116 was painted in the artist's studio in north-west London over a period of about three months in the winter of 1984-5. Blamey only works on one painting at a time, so the execution of T04116 did not overlap with work on any other paintings. He prefers to work on a gesso ground on high-density fibre board, having learnt from bitter experience that it is much more difficult to alter a painting when it is in oils on canvas than when it has a gesso base on board. He prepares his boards with about eight coats of gesso which he makes up himself from rabbit skin glue and whiting. The board used for T04116 was covered with a section of an old cotton sheet before the gesso coats were applied.

The objects depicted in T04116 are ones which have a valued place in Blamey's studio and home. All but the decoy duck have appeared in previous paintings. The decoy duck was bought by the artist's wife in an antique shop in Camden Passage, Islington, London in the late 1970s. The artist and his wife believe it to be a 19th century American duck and assume that the metal loop visible to the right of the duck's body was used for pulling the duck across the surface of the water. The wooden column was bought by the artist and his wife from an antique shop in north-west London c.1960. When purchased it was covered with layers of old dark brown paint and had a large rectangular top. It has since been stripped of its paint to reveal the wood underneath and the artist had a light coloured circular pine top made to replace the earlier top. The column has appeared in earlier paintings by Blamey, for example ‘Double Tetrahedron' - a portrait of the artist's son with a mathematical model of a double tetrahedron made by him placed on top of the column - which was exhibited in the RA summer exhibition of 1969 and reproduced in the RA Illustrated for that year (p.21). Also it appears in ‘Stripes', exhibited in the RA summer exhibition of 1968 (repr. RA Illustrated, 1968, p.14) and in ‘Proximity', exhibited in the RA summer exhibition of 1966 (repr. RA Illustrated, 1966, p.16). The expanse of wood panelling which fills the middle ground of the picture is the back of an 18th century settle, which the artist and his wife bought from an antique shop in Camden Town, London in the early 1960s. The mirrors, which are hung opposite each other on the studio walls and thus reflect each other, were bought at the same time from an antique shop in Camden Town, London in the early 1970s. They are 19th century and were bought at the same time because the artist and his wife were unable to decide between them. Both the settle and the mirrors have appeared in other paintings by the artist.

Blamey usually executes a number of preparatory working sketches in pencil for each painting. In the case of T04116 two working sketches exist. One is a scaled-up perspectival drawing of the column and the other concentrates on the section of the painting which contains the two mirrors and the reflection of the artist. In the latter sketch the artist worked out the perspective of the mirrors and their reflections using his right eye as the vanishing point. Blamey has often used the device of setting a small mirror reflection of himself in his paintings. He stresses that this is not so much to present himself in the guise of a self-portrait, but rather as a reminder that he is the creator of what the viewer sees. In conformity with this view T04116 is titled ‘Decoy Duck and Self Portrait' with the two starring items billed in their correct order, Decoy Duck first and self-portrait second.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.98-9