Bridget Riley

To a Summer’s Day 2


On display at Tate Modern

Bridget Riley born 1931
Acrylic paint on canvas
Support: 1155 x 2810 mm
Purchased 1982


To a Summer’s Day 2 is an acrylic painting on canvas comprised of coloured waves. There are four colours within the painting – blue, violet, pink and ochre – and the line of each wave employs three colours at any one time. The choice of colour persists for one-and-a-half wavelengths, with one colour starting and another ending at every crest or trough. There is no formula to the repetition of colours along the waves. The other variable in the painting is the direction of advance of the waves, which is determined by their diagonal alignment. This changes seven times across the canvas and is arranged so that the most rapid change appears just above the wave at the central horizontal. The direction of the twist changes alternately from wave to wave throughout the design, and the combination of changing colour and changing twist gives the viewer the impression of motion in the painting as the waves appear to ripple across the canvas.

To a Summer’s Day 2 was made in 1980, while Riley also worked on To a Summer’s Day 1980 (private collection), a canvas which uses the same colour scheme and wave patterns, and is the same height but slimmer by 30 cm. Both of these paintings were developed from full-sized gouache studies on cartridge paper, using three templates cut from hardboard to draw the curves. Riley used these studies to test the design and colour combination before the margins were adjusted by eye.

The individual parts of the canvas are not perceived by the viewer. Instead, the work is viewed as a whole or ‘field’ in which the visual effect is created by an awareness of all the different parts of the painting at the same time. The narrowing of the waves within the central section of To a Summer’s Day 2 gives the viewer a specific perception of the work. As an entry on the work in a 1986 Tate catalogue describes it: ‘The more active centre and calmer top and bottom is referred to by the artist in terms of landscape, as if there were a horizon just above the centre, with the implication that the spectator has a certain point of view’ (The Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982–4 1986, p.314).

The painting’s title refers to the opening line of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, although Riley employed this to convey the general feeling of a landscape rather than as a direct interpretation of the poem:

It is absolutely untrue that my work depends on a literary impulse or has any illustrative intention. The marks on the canvas are the sole and essential agents in a series of relationships which form the structure of the painting. They should be so complete as to need, and allow of, no further elucidation.
(Bridget Riley, The Eye’s Mind: Collected Writings 1965–1999, London 1999, p.89.)

While the alignment of the waves is created from templates, the colours were completed by eye. The colours are considered as pairs, in cooler or warmer clusters arranged in certain areas of the canvas. Riley used warm hues to evoke the summery feel suggested by the title. Mixed colours were chosen rather than pure ones in order to maximise the interaction between the lines and tones in the eye of the viewer.

Riley began to paint pure geometric abstract canvases in 1961. Her first works were painted in a black and white palette and were concerned with variations in shape rather than tone. This period of the artist’s op art practice is represented in Tate’s collection by Fall 1963 (Tate T00616). In 1964 Riley began painting with a full palette of grey before beginning to use colour into her work in 1967. Riley described this transition as follows: ‘My black-and-white paintings had been about states of being, states of composure and disturbance, but when I introduced colour in 1967 this began to change. Colour inevitably leads you to the outside world’ (Riley 1999, p.19).

The cautious evolution of Riley’s practice, which eventually incorporated different shapes, tones and colours, allowed for a growing complexity, as curator Paul Moorhouse has observed:

The curve paintings include some of the most serene and emotionally radiant that she has ever painted, an implication that blossoms in the connotations of poetry and music contained in some of their titles.
(Quoted in Riley 1999, p.83.)

Further reading
The Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982–4, London 1986, p.314, reproduced.
Bridget Riley, ‘The Experience of Painting’, in The Eye’s Mind: Collected Writings 1965–1999, ed. by Robert Kudeika, London 1999, pp.89–90.
Paul Moorhouse (ed.), Bridget Riley, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2003.

Phoebe James
March 2016

Supported by Christie’s.

Display caption

Coloured stripes cross along a common band, reminiscent of twisting ribbons, to create a wave pattern. The choice of colours was intended to provoke an optical mix in the eye, with as much interaction as possible between colours. Light blue and yellow ochre form the basic pair of colours into which occasional threads of rose and violet are introduced to accentuate the warm and cold accents across the canvas. The title refers to William Shakespeare’s sonnet ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’

Gallery label, October 2016

Catalogue entry

T03375 To a Summer's Day 2 1980

Acrylic on canvas 45 1/2 × 110 3/4 (1155 × 2810) Inscribed ‘RILEY '80’ on edge of canvas t.l., ‘RILEY/TO A SUMMER'S/DAY 2’, ‘1980/ACRYLIC/ON LINEN’, ‘top↑’ and 45 5/8 × 110 5/8 INS' on reverse, ‘RILEY TO A SUMMER'S DAY 2 1980 ACRYLIC ON LINEN’ along centre bar of stretcher and ‘TOP’ on vertical bar of stretcher.
Purchased from the artist through Juda Rowan Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1982
Exh: Bridget Riley, The Warwick Arts Trust, June–July 1981 (5, as ‘1979’)

The painting titled ‘To a Summer's Day’ was made in 1980. It is in acrylic on canvas, 45 3/8 × 99ins., and is of the same design as T03375. It was sold at Christie's 25 March 1986 (41, repr.).

‘To a Summer's Day 2’ was painted at the artist's studio in West London. There were no small scale preparatory studies particularly for it, although the colours and their combinations in groups were studied in numerous gouaches. As for all her paintings the artist first made a full size cartoon, in pencil and gouache on cartridge paper, drawn flat on the floor. The function of this was to test if the design and colours would work as a painting, in the sense of producing an active optical mixture, and the cartoon was displayed on her studio wall for study. The cartoon was subsequently destroyed by the artist.

The drawing of the cartoon and later of the painting was made using three templates cut from hardboard. One of these was as wide as the painting, with one edge cut in regular waves, and was used to draw the top and bottom of the waves, which are set at a diagonal. The lines that mark the borders between colours within the waves were made from two double sided templates of a single wavelength, the top and bottom marked ‘shorter’ and ‘longer’. These borders run from every trough and crest. Since the outlines of the waves are at a diagonal these curves are either of shorter or longer wavelength, corresponding to the two sides of the template. It was found in practice that in order to balance the colours correctly these curves could not be regular, and two templates were used as alternatives for each.

There are two variables in the drawing of ‘To a Summer's Day 2’ within this scheme, the direction of advance of the waves (caused by their diagonal alignment) and the direction of the twist of the colours within each wave. The direction of advance changes seven times, and is arranged in such a way that the most rapid change occurs just above the wave at the central horizontal. This more active centre and calmer top and bottom is referred to by the artist in terms of landscape, as if there were a horizon just above the centre, with the implication that the spectator has a certain point of view. The direction of the twist changes alternately from wave to wave throughout the design.

The margins of the design were adjusted by eye, both in design and colour, so as not to draw attention to any obtrusive fragments.

The positions of the four colours-blue, violet, pink and ochre-were determined by the artist when looking at the completed cartoon. They are not repeated in order, either along each wave or from one wave to another, although the same colour is not repeated across a border within a wave. The colours were considered as pairs, in combinations that were warmer or colder, and placed in clusters at certain places. These clusters of similar colours do not follow the changes in the design. Each wave has three colours at any one point and one starts and another ends at every crest or trough, each colour persisting for one and a half wavelengths. The choice of colours was intended to provoke an optical mix in the eye, with as much interaction as possible between colours, and hence mixed rather than pure colours were used.

When the cartoon was approved, the design was redrawn onto the canvas in pencil and ink pen, using a padded template, and painted with acrylic. The colours were made up as equivalent to the overall effect of the gouache colours, and not matched mechanically.

The title refers in a general way to the feeling of the painting, using a phrase from Shakespeare's sonnet ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer's day’.

In both colour and drawing this painting is one of the most complex arrangements of wave patterns used by Bridget Riley, although others have used up to six colours. In paintings of the later 1960s such as ‘Cataract 3’ (1967) the waves are all of the same size (so that the colours do not twist) and progress evenly so that all the crests fall on parallel diagonal lines. Twisting colours were first used in paintings of parallel stripes, and then in wave paintings from 1976. The further variation, changes of direction in the waves, was introduced in the paintings of 1980 exhibited the following summer at the Warwick Arts Trust.

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