Norman Blamey My Wife and Son 1959

Artwork details

Artist
Norman Blamey 1914–2000
Title
My Wife and Son
Date 1959
Medium Oil paint on board
Dimensions Support: 1652 x 887 mm
frame: 1824 x 1060 x 108 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by Stephen Blamey, the artist's son 1994
Reference
T06868
Not on display

Summary

Throughout his career Blamey, a devout Anglo Catholic, worked with two subjects he knew intimately: the Church and his family. In My Wife and Son the artist's wife, Margaret, and his son, Stephen, are depicted at the family home in London. The painting is fairly heavily textured as a result of Blamey's technique, which involved applying paint mainly with the edge of a palette knife. This process would often take several months to complete and may have partly directed him towards subjects regularly available to him.

During the 1940s and 1950s Blamey was attracted to early Flemish and to Byzantine art. Critics have compared the meticulous realism of My Wife and Son with the paintings of van Eyck and Memling, among other Flemish masters. As well as the general verticality of the composition, the attenuation of Margaret's hands and the slightly schematic folds of the drapery are highly reminiscent of Gothic art. A Byzantine influence may be discernible in the poses of the figures. The formal isolation of the two figures, the halo-like chairback framing Margaret's head, and her crossed hands are all elements that have been compared by critics to Byzantine religious art.

The flattened perspective and elongated pictorial details emphasise the verticality of the portrait format. The compressed spatial depth gives the impression of objects stacked on top of one another rather like the house of cards in the bottom right, instead of receding into a background. The floorboards, violin and bow, door, wallpaper stripes, chair slats, shadows, and drapery all contribute to the vertical dynamic of the composition. The skirting board and parts of the rugs' patterning create a subdued horizontal counterpoint. The house of cards and the creased sheet of paper, both of which the artist claimed had no iconographic significance, echo the interplay of vertical and horizontal elements. The violin's presence is explained by the fact that Stephen was being taught to play the instrument.

The Anglo Catholic Church had developed out of the Oxford Movement's attempt in the mid and late nineteenth century to seek a rapprochement between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. Linked to the Gothic Revival and the Pre-Raphaelites, the Oxford Movement was instrumental in promoting an aesthetic of neo-medievalism. Lynda Checketts has speculatively traced Blamey's interest in the Gothic to this source.

Further reading:
Lynda Checketts, Norman Blamey, exhibition catalogue, Norwich Gallery, Norwich 1992

Toby Treves
February 2000

About this artwork