Patrick Caulfield

Battlements

1967

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1524 x 2743 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1967
Reference
T00949

Summary

Battlements is one of several paintings of simplified architectural details seen in close-up which Caulfield painted in the mid-1960s. A painting of a Parish Church (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh) made in the same year was based on a line drawing of a typical country church which Caulfield found illustrated in a book, The Parish Churches of England (J.Charles Fox and Charles Bradley Ford, London 1954). The diagram depicts a common type rather than a particular example, appealing to Caulfield’s interest in creating generic images. Battlements and a related painting, Stained Glass Window 1967 (Musée National d’Histoire et d’Art, Luxemburg), represent fragments of this fictional church. Because he wanted to depict his subjects at life size, the artist was obliged to paint these on canvas rather than on his usual hardboard which was not available in large enough sections. However, stylistically they exemplify the technique he had been perfecting since 1963. At the Royal College of Art, for his final year project of making a transcription from a famous work of art, Caulfield selected the famous Romantic painting by Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi 1826 (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux). Caulfield’s version, Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi, after Delacroix, 1963 (Tate T03101) is a representation of the original using large areas of flat, monochromatic colour defined with simple black outlines, reminiscent of sign-making or poster design. This became Caulfield’s trademark style for a number of years. He was influenced by the work of French Cubist, Fernand Léger (1881-1955), who used a linear reinforcement to the edge of his forms to transform flat shapes into convincing signs of three-dimensional objects in space. Partly as a reaction against the dominant American movements of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, Caulfield was looking further back in time, towards the European continent for inspiration. Although his simplified and stylised technique had much in common with Pop, his portrait of Spanish Cubist Juan Gris (1887-1927) painted in 1963 and a series of Still Lifes painted in 1964 ally his work with high rather than low art influences. However, in common with his contemporaries, Caulfield was taking his imagery from the world of the familiar, commenting in 1967 that ‘what we call inspiration results from a careful sifting of everyday experience’ (quoted in Patrick Caulfield: Paintings 1963-81, p.13).

In Battlements a single row of crenellated battlements crosses the canvas at a slight slant. Their three dimensional form is outlined in black line over a monotone dark blue. The artist has detailed the occasional crack and chip in the stonework, counteracting the decorative patterning they create. This confers the sense that they are derived from a view of the real object rather than being an invention of the artist’s imagination. Behind them, the background is a monotone light blue. The monochrome quality of the paint and the use of unnatural colours confer a sense of emptiness and unreality on the ‘scene’. The atmosphere is similar to that of a slightly earlier painting View of the Rooftops 1965 (private collection), which depicts a series of blue chimneys rendered in a similar manner against an empty red ground. Other paintings made in 1967 share a sense of bleak and barren isolation at odds with the attractive, bright colours in which the images are painted. Marco Livingstone has characterised this as ‘a deep sense of unease’ in Caulfield’s work which lurks ‘within even the most apparently cheerful of images’ (‘Perspectives on Painting: Seven Essays on the Art of Patrick Caulfield’, Patrick Caulfield, p.9).

Further reading:
Patrick Caulfield, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1999, p.14, reproduced p.14
Patrick Caulfield: Paintings 1963-81, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London and Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool 1981, p.21, reproduced p.21
Patrick Caulfield: Paintings 1963-92, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London 1992

Elizabeth Manchester
March 2003

Display caption

Towards the second half of the 1960s, Caulfield’s attention shifted away from the traditional genre of the still life to a more detailed exploration of architectural elements. This coincided with a change in format and an increase in scale.

Here, Caulfield uses a limited colour range to examine the tension between three-dimensional representation and two-dimensional surface. The highly simplified details of ecclesiastical architecture were suggested by a painting he made of a Paris Church earlier that year.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

Patrick Caulfield 1936-2005

T00949 Battlements 1967

Inscribed ‘ “Battlements”/Patrick Caulfield/4/67’ on the back.
Canvas, 60 x 108 (152.5 x 274.5).
Purchased from the artist through the Robert Fraser Gallery (Knapping Fund) 1967.
Exh: Studio Marconi, Milan, September 1967 (no numbers); Jeunes Peintres Anglais, Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, October 1967 (11, erroneously as oil on paper); Robert Fraser Gallery, November–December 1967 (no numbers, erroneously as oil on hardboard, repr.)

On the back of ‘Battlements’ is the outline of an incomplete painting which would have been virtually identical to ‘Parish Church’. It was abandoned because of a fault in the priming.

‘Battlements’ was painted in April 1967. The artist wrote, in answer to enquiries (28 April 1968): The image is invented. It derives from executing the detail of battlements in the church painting of Stuyvesant collection [the one mentioned above]. I suddenly thought it was a good idea to paint just battlements as I decided to paint just one stained glass window; for a variety of reasons. One only, because it was an unusual subject for a contemporary painting. The convenient way I could simplify (and yet describe) both these subjects does suggest an awareness of simple forms in art today, and that obviously exists with me, as well as being a personal preference. But specific references to Judd or Morris are not made. I became aware of the sculpture (by reproduction) resembling “The Well” after I had painted “The Well”. I am not aware of any particular sculpture resembling “The Battlements”.’

The sculpture by Robert Morris referred to is ‘Untitled 1965’ in the collection of Mr and Mrs John Powers, New York. ‘Parish Church’ and ‘The Well’ are reproduced in the catalogue of the Robert Fraser exhibition.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1967–1968, London 1968.

Explore