Catalogue entry

T02031 VASES OF FLOWERS 1962

Not inscribed
Household paint on hardboard, 48×48 (122×122)
Purchased from the Waddington Galleries with funds provided by the Tate Gallery Publications Department, the Trustees of the Tate Gallery Trust Fund and the Grant-in-Aid 1976
Coll: Private Collection
Exh: Young Contemporaries, F.B.A. Galleries, February 1963 (119) as ‘Flowers’; Royal College of Art Diploma Show 1963; Waddington Galleries stand, Basle Art Fair, Swiss Industries Fair Hall, Basle, June 1975 (rep.), as ‘Still Life, 1963’

The following account, with those of T02032 and T02033, is based on the artist's replies to questions on 22 March 1977, and has been approved by him.

Although he cannot remember precisely, he thinks, from the early date at which Young Contemporaries was held in 1963, that he must have completed this painting in 1962. Along with ‘Black and White Flower Piece’ 1963(?) (repr. Christopher Finch, Patrick Caulfield 1971, p.17), with which it was exhibited at Young Contemporaries, it was the first of Caulfield's works concerning flowers to be executed on a single flat support since, as a very young student, he had painted conventional still lifes in the mid 1950's. Before ‘Vases of Flowers’ he had, however, made a construction in which a cardboard cut-out of flowers was mounted on a real trellis of painted wood. In ‘Vases of Flowers’, as in other works mentioned, Caulfield was deliberately placing contrasting conventions or degrees of naturalism in direct confrontation. The formalised areas were meant to give the lie to the naturalism of the flowers. Thus the flowers were painted from a careful drawing of real chrysanthemums, the colours of which were approximately retained in the painting, but the vases in which they are shown are formalizations unrelated to the ones in which Caulfield placed them to paint them in his Battersea flat. The rest of the painting is entirely non-naturalistic, the formal devices (even the enclosure of double black lines, which was not intended to represent a table top) being quite arbitrary, and probably a little influenced by Juan Gris. The same wish to confront contrasting types of representation still operates in Caulfield's flower paintings. For example in ‘Entrance’ 1975 (repr. in colour in catalogue of Caulfield's exhibition, Waddington Galleries, November– December 1975), the flowers, which seem almost photographically vivid, are derived from seed catalogues and superimposed arbitrarily on stylized paintings of leaves which do not relate to them botanically.

Caulfield chose the subject of flowers to paint in 1962 partly because it was an age-old subject and thus more of a challenge to him then than it would be now.

The presentation of the vases ‘dumbly’ and ‘artlessly’ side by side and against a flat ground giving no sense of space, was deliberately banal. For Caulfield at that time figurative painting required a very banal composition and a strong element of formalization in order to accentuate the objectiveness of the painting as opposed to its illusionistic properties, or to concerns such as naturalistic perspective.

Because commercial gloss paint tends to run, the entire picture was painted flat except for the black lines. This was also the case with T02032 ‘Still Life with Dagger’.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978