Catalogue entry

Ceri Richards b. 1903

T00798 The Female Contains All Qualities 1937

Inscr. ‘Ceri Richards/1937’ 1.1. and ‘The Female unites all qualities/Ceri Richards 1937’ in pencil on back of canvas.
Oil and mixed media on canvas, 42 x 35 (107 x 89).
Purchased from Frances Richards, the artist’s wife, 1966. Coll: Given by the artist to his wife c. 1956.
Exh: A.I.A., 1939 Exhibition, Whitechapel Art Gallery; February–March 1939 (1420); New Movements in Art: Contemporary Work in England, London Museum, Lancaster House, March–May 1942 (81); 40,000 Years of Modern Art, Academy Hall, 1948, organised by I.C.A. (as ‘Black and White Abstraction’, not in catalogue); Whitechapel Art Gallery, June-July 1960 (7, repr.); Venice Biennale, 1962 (60, British Pavilion H, repr.) and British Council tour (Madrid, Barcelona, Brussels, Munich, Berlin, Delft, Paris); Art in Britain 1930–1940, Marlborough Fine Art, March–April 1965 (151, repr.); Marlborough New London Gallery, June 1965 (6).
Repr: J. R. Webster, Ceri Richards, 1961, pi. 4; David Thompson, Ceri Richards, 1963 (plates unnumbered).

The title of this painting was taken from a line in Walt Whitman’s poem ‘I Sing the Body Electric’ in Leaves of Grass (published 1855), Stanza 5. The original line reads: ‘The female contains all qualities and tempers them’. The artist wrote (11 March 1966): ‘… I am afraid it has nothing to do with the Walt Whitman poem – except that at that time I was reading his Leaves of Grass and as you suggest there is a similarity of theme – but at that moment it was most unconsciously so – for my very arbitary and very random discovery of this line seemed to define the painting’s form design and mood at the end – just suddenly I came on this line through adopting a device used by Surrealists – by chance. This painting commenced by way of two themes which I was using in constructions and paintings just then. The Sculptor in his Studio [c.f. No. T00308 “The Sculptor in his Studio” 1937] and the artist and his family - I have masses of drawings for the first motive.

‘Anyway the Artist and his Family theme in the ‘Female contains . . .’ painting gradually gave way to Sculptor in his Studio and both themes developed into the painting you now have and which then (to me) didn’t seem to be bound by these motives when completed - it was then I thought of the device of finding a title by very easy but very exciting means - opening a book at random and taking whatever line my finger fell on as right and sufficient.

‘Of course opening Leaves of Grass at random would be a “safe bet” (begging W W’s pardon) and my finger miraculously fell on The Female contains ... I felt it was beautifully apt - it confirmed it seemed to me - it affirmed the mood and meaning of the painting in a marvellous way for me …

‘Of course it has a strong connection with …‘Two Females 1937–38’ [No. T00307 “Two Females”, construction].’

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1965–1966, London 1967.