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