John Lessore

Apollo and Daphne

c.1985

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 914 x 610 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the executors of the estate of David Wilkie 1993
Reference
T06693

Display caption

This painting came about as the result of a commission from Wilkie for Lessore to make a version of 'Apollo and Daphne', the sculpture by the Renaissance master Bernini. Wilkie saw this work in the Borghese Gallery in Rome during an army posting there at the end of the Second World War. Lessore's sculpture stood in Wilkie's garden and followed the original in depicting the moment when Apollo embraces Daphne, who turns into a tree to escape him. The related painting came about because Lessore tried to persuade Wilkie to commission a painting rather than a sculpture. Wilkie would not change his mind but Lessore painted this version anyway, which he presented to him.

Gallery label, September 2004

Technique and condition

The painting was executed in oil colours on a single piece of medium-weight linen canvas supplied by Russell and Chapple. It is attached to a wooden stretcher with copper tacks at regular intervals around the tacking margins (both of which are original). The stretched face of the canvas was primed by the artist first with a thin layer of unpigmented size (probably an animal glue) followed by a thin layer of white primer. The artist recalls this priming to be an egg medium, although analysis identified a mixture of an animal glue and drying oil (with titanium white and chalk as the principal inorganic components). It is possible that the animal glue comes from the size layer. The white priming is visible through some of the thinner areas of paint, such as the thin green used at the lower part of the left edge.

The paint is oil and was applied exclusively by brush in a very fluid and possibly quite vigorous manner. The brushstrokes are mostly broad and much use was made of a wet-in-wet technique. The paint is generally matt and opaque. Most areas consist of at least two layers of paint with the occasional build up reasonable impasto in the figures. There is some indication of a few minor compositional changes to the work during its execution. For example, there is a strong horizontal brushstroke in Apollo's stomach, which may have corresponded to the initial placing of the drapery which is now found lower down his body.

The painting is not varnished. The painting was acquired unframed. Although generally in a very good condition, it was felt that the painting was quite sensitive to environmental fluctuations and mechanical abrasion. It was therefore decided to frame it to ensure that its condition was preserved for as long as possible. The present frame was made with the artist's approval in 1994.

Tom Learner
September 1997