He foresaw his pale body is the seventh in Hamilton’s ongoing set of illustrations to James Joyce’s novel Ulysses (first published in Paris, 1922). The project was begun in the late 1940s and to date comprises seven etchings created during the 1980s (Tate P77473, P77483, P77484, P77491, P77492, P77493, P77494), and a digital print, The heaventree of stars (P78316). Hamilton was first inspired by the idea of illustrating Joyce’s complex, experimental novel in 1947 while he was doing army service and began making sketches the following year, only to put the project to one side in 1950. It was not until 1981 that he made the decision to create one illustration for each of the novel’s eighteen chapters, and a nineteenth image – a portrait of one of the novel’s main protagonists, Leopold Bloom – destined as a frontispiece. He conceived these images as large intaglio prints. However in 1990 the artist became tired of commuting to Paris, where he had been working with the master printmaker Aldo Crommelynck for twenty years, and abandoned etching and other traditional forms of fine art printing. He spent much of the 1990s developing his skill in creating images destined for printing on a computer.
Hamilton’s initial sketch to illustrate the fifth, ‘Lotus Eaters’, episode in Ulysses was executed in ink in 1948. The image of Bloom’s anticipation of a warm bath in which he ‘foresaw his pale body’ is, in this first attempt, a side view of the character naked in the bath surrounded by studies of feet, faces and penises. (Hamilton later used this ink sketch as the basis for his aquatint etching, A languid floating flower, 1983.) In the same year, feeling that the side-view was inadequate to describe Bloom’s mental picture evoked in the words: ‘He foresaw his pale body reclined in it at full, naked, in a womb of warmth, oiled by scented melting soap, softly laved’ (Joyce, Ulysses, Oxford 1993, p.83), Hamilton created a second study using pencil and watercolour. In this version, which was to form the basis for the final heliogravure print owned by Tate, the artist inverted and foreshortened Bloom’s body in a pose reminiscent of Mantegna’s famous image of the Dead Christ (Andrea Mantegna: The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, c.1480, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan). As Hamilton explained: ‘The key word “foresaw” demands an interior perspective, foreshortened as though seen from an inner eye’ (quoted in Lullin, p.218). The image shows a bath viewed from above and behind, so that the taps are at the top of the page, partially cropped out of the image. Bloom lies in the bath, his naked body extending down the page from his feet, just below the taps, to his upper body and shoulders filling the bath at the bottom of the picture, crowned by an aerial view of his bald head. The area around the bath is dark and empty; the colour is all in the flesh tones of Bloom’s body and the brass yellow of the taps. A round yellow object, half concealed under Bloom’s right knee, recalls the yellow flower with no scent that Bloom receives in the letter from his erotic correspondent Martha Clifford, as described in the ‘Lotus Eaters’ episode of Joyce’s novel.
Hamilton abandoned the 1948 watercolour until 1989, when he began working on mylar sheets preparatory to creating the four plates for the execution of his final print using heliogravure, burin etching and roulette in twenty-three colours. In this process, the pale washes of the watercolour were translated into deeper tones and a few adjustments were made to the earlier composition: a greater part of Bloom’s right hand was raised out of the water; the alignment of the bath taps was reversed and the chain of the bathplug was lengthened so that a section appears to sit on the floor of the bath. By cropping the top of the taps, Hamilton creates a sense of the intimacy of internal contemplation; at the same time the viewer looks down at Bloom’s body from an external position, evoking an out-of-body experience.
He foresaw his pale body was produced in an edition of 120 plus twelve artist’s proofs. Tate’s copy is number thirty-one. It was printed by the artist and Kurt Zein, Vienna, on Zerkall paper and distributed by Waddington Graphics, London.
Etienne Lullin, Richard Hamilton: Prints and Multiples 1939-2002, exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Winterthur and Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 2003, pp.218-9, reproduced p.219 in colour.
Stephen Coppel, Richard Hamilton: Imaging James Joyce’s Ulysses, exhibition catalogue, Cankarjev Dom Galerija, Ljubljana 2001, pp.19 and 26-30, reproduced p.30.
Richard Hamilton: Prints 1984-91, Stuttgart and London 1992, p.38, reproduced p.39 in colour.