Catalogue entry

T03704 SEATED NUDE 1951–2

Oil on canvas 42 × 27 7/8 (1067 × 707)

Inscribed ‘William Coldstream. Painted for Adrian Stokes’ on canvas turnover, top centre
Purchased from Mrs Ann Stokes Angus (Grant-in-Aid) 1983

Prov: Adrian Stokes (purchased from the artist between 1952 and 1954); Mrs Ann Stokes (later Mrs Ann Stokes Angus)
Exh: Critic's Choice, Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd., July 1958 (2, repr. as ‘Portrait of a model’); William Coldstream, AC tour, South London Art Gallery, April–May 1962, The University, Leeds, June 1962, City Art Gallery, Bristol, July 1962, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, August 1962, Southampton Art Gallery, September 1962, City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, September–October 1962 (50, repr.); From Life, Camden Arts Centre, January 1968 (31, repr. as ‘Sitting Woman’); Eight figurative painters, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, October 1981–January 1982, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California, January–March 1982 (24, repr.)
Lit: Alan Clutton-Brock, ‘Round the London Galleries’, The Listener, LX, 10 July 1958, pp.60–1 repr.; Claude Rogers, ‘William Coldstream, Painter’, The Studio, CLXIII, May 1962, pp.166–71 repr. in col. as ‘Seated Nude Miss Hoyer’

The following entry is based on conversations held with the artist on 16 April, 12 May and 14 May 1986 and on information supplied by Peter Rumley and Ann Stokes Angus. It has been approved by the artist.

‘Seated Nude’ was painted in the artist's studio at the Slade School of Fine Art between autumn 1951 and summer 1952. Coldstream recalls that not less than thirty sittings were required, each sitting lasting about two hours. The artist has stated that, in painting from the model, it was his occasional practice to make preliminary pencil sketches but these would not either be squared up onto the canvas or used for reference while actually painting. He does not recall making any preliminary studies for ‘Seated Nude’. It was the first painting to be completed following his appointment as Slade Professor in 1949 and the first nude which Coldstream had undertaken since ‘Standing Nude’ 1938, painted in the studios of the School of Drawing and Painting in the original location at Fitzroy Street.

The work was a result of a commission from the artist's friend, Adrian Stokes (1902–73), who had known Coldstream since 1937. Ann Stokes Angus has stated that her late husband ‘had an unbounded belief [in] and admiration for his friend’. Stokes was concerned that Coldstream, since his appointment as Professor, was spending too much time on administrative matters at the Slade and was not painting. Coldstream has confirmed that he was indeed deeply involved with his responsibilities at the Slade. This is suggested further by the fact that progress had slowed on portraits of Bernard Hallward, Headmaster of Clifton College, Bristol, and Lord Jowitt, First Earl of Stevenage, for the Middle Temple, although Coldstream attributes this also to difficulty in obtaining frequent and regular sittings. The commission was designed to redress the balance by once more involving him in ‘serious painting’. Stokes also commissioned a portrait of Dr Melanie Klein, the eminent child psychoanalyst, which Coldstream worked on at the same time as the ‘Seated Nude’. This portrait was unfinished and is now lost.

When the Tate's picture was reproduced in Claude Rogers's article of 1962 (loc.cit.) it was incorrectly titled ‘Seated Nude Miss Hoyer’. Miss Hoyer was in fact the model for Coldstream's ‘Seated Nude’ 1960 (repr. Eight figurative painters, op.cit., 27), which like his ‘Seated Nude’ 1971–3 (repr. Apollo, CIV, November 1976, fig.5, p.412) echoes the pose of the model in the Tate's picture. The model for the Tate's picture was a Miss Mond, whom Coldstream believes to have been possibly a Slade model. This is the only time he painted her. Her pose was determined more by concern for the model's comfort and the ease with which it could be recreated over a long period of sittings than by any overriding aesthetic aim. This embodies Coldstream's idea of ‘straight painting’ which seeks to achieve an accurate transcription of what is seen and eschews striving for particular artistic effects. The artist's position in relation to the model was similarly influenced by practical considerations. Coldstream has described how he set up the easel 8 or 9 feet away from and to the right of the model and with the light striking the surface of the canvas from the left so that he did not stand in his own light. The backdrop to the painting is a studio screen which Coldstream frequently used. Here it is treated in a very generalised and painterly manner and contrasts with the carefully observed figure. The screen was also used to reposition the model exactly for each sitting by reference to small coloured markers on its surface. As is his usual practice the artist permitted himself the use of a single brush only: a size 9 Winsor and Newton sable.

Coldstream has observed that ‘once I start painting I am occupied mainly with putting things in the right place’ (William Coldstream, ‘How I Paint’, The Listener, XVIII, no.453, 15 September 1937, p.572). ‘Seated Nude’ exemplifies this aim. Characteristically the surface of the model's skin exhibits the small coloured dots which are the result of a long and painstaking process of measuring and relating the points on the body using plumbline and brush-handle. Although Claude Rogers commented on this work that it ‘is not exactly the nakedness of a particular young girl which the method used might reasonably lead one to expect’ (William Coldstream Painter', op.cit.), Coldstream's own estimation of it is that it is ‘very literal’.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986