Larry Rivers

Parts of the Face: French Vocabulary Lesson

1961

On display at Tate Liverpool

Artist
Larry Rivers 1923–2002
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 749 x 749 mm
frame: 833 x 833 x 85 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1962
Reference
T00522

Display caption

Rivers's early work was influenced by Abstract Expressionist painting, in particular its emphasis on free brushwork and spontaneous effects of surface. While retaining this expressive, painterly style, during the 1950s he began to paint portraits of his family and friends. This painting is of the artist's wife Clarice. It was done while they were living in Paris and attending French lessons. It was inspired by a drawing used in one of the lessons to teach vocabulary for parts of the face. The drip marks and broad brushstrokes make an explicit reference to Abstract Expressionist painting. But in contrast, here this emotive style is deliberately linked with a mundane subject.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

Larry Rivers born 1923

T00522 Parts of the Face: French Vocabulary Lesson 1961

Inscribed on back of canvas 'Parts of the Face | 'The Vocabulary | Lesson' | Rivers '61'. The painting incorporates a number of stencilled French words for parts of the face: 'OEIL', 'FRONT', 'CHEVEUX', 'NEZ', etc.
Oil on canvas, 29 1/2 x 29 1/2 (75 x 75); the painted area also extends around the stretcher
Purchased from the artist through Gimpel Fils (Grant-in-Aid) 1962
Exh: Antagonismes 2. L'Objet, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, March-April 1962 (422, repr.); Larry Rivers, Galerie Rive Droite, Paris, April-May 1962 (works not listed); Rivers, Gimpel Fils, London, May 1962 (8, repr.); Larry Rivers, Jewish Museum, New York, September-October 1965 (not in catalogue)
Lit: Sam Hunter, Larry Rivers (New York 1969), p.38, repr. pl.117 in colour
Repr: Edward Lucie-Smith, Movements in Art since 1945 (London 1969), pl.130 in colour

A painting of the artist's wife Clarice, done in Paris. Larry Rivers married Clarice Price, a Welsh-born teacher of art and music, in 1961 and they afterwards lived from October 1961 to July 1962 in Paris.

'As to the direct inspiration', he wrote, 'Clarice and I were going to the L'Alliance Française in Paris and I think perhaps the sixth or seventh lesson had a silly drawing of a young man's face with lines radiating out from each feature and a circle at the end of each of these lines with a number in it which then referred down to a paragraph in small print identifying the name of each feature by the number in the circle. I just stencilled in the name dropping the circle and number idea. The "Parts of the Face" that the Tate has was the first one I painted.' It started with his wife's mouth open and her tongue out to include additional features, but she began to get extremely uncomfortable in this pose, so he scumbled the area and began again (letter of 6 March 1963).

He subsequently painted full-length studies of her nude with the parts labelled (known as 'Parts of the Body') and also a number of paintings and drawing-collages of other models on similar lines. One of the Iranian painter Yektai has the features inscribed in Persian by Yektai himself, in accordance with the artist's directions, and a portrait study of Yves Klein has the parts identified in English. He also made a series of parts of the body in Italian and Polish (he had visited both Italy and Poland in the course of his travels).

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.638, reproduced p.638


Further reading

Article

Parts of the Face: French Vocabulary Lesson 1961 by Larry Rivers

Through analysis of source material, the artist’s creative process and new archival resources, this In Focus investigates new interpretations ...

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