Alan Davie

Birth of Venus


Not on display

Alan Davie 1920–2014
Oil paint on board
Support: 1600 × 2438 mm
frame: 1608 × 2453 × 38 mm
Purchased 1958

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Alan Davie’s approach to painting often involved improvisation (he was also a jazz musician). He was attracted to the idea of relying on chance and the unconscious. Davie believed art should be ‘a matter of making original magical things’. The imagery in Birth of Venus provided ‘a distinct suggestion of the primeval womb, birth place, cavern, source of fruitfulness and love’. His painting reflected a widespread interest at the time in myth and the symbols used to represent birth, procreation and death. Davie explained in 1957, ‘I paint simply to find enlightenment and revelation.’

Gallery label, April 2019

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Catalogue entry

T00203 BIRTH OF VENUS 1955

Inscr. on back ‘Alan Davie Birth of Venus 1955’.
Oil on hardboard, 63×96 (160×244).

Purchased from the Whitechapel Art Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1958.

Exh: Wakefield, March 1958 (40); Nottingham University, April–May 1958 (30); Whitechapel Art Gallery, June–August 1958 (41, repr. pl.7); Liverpool, September–October 1958 (38).

The artist wrote (9 August 1958): '... I must make it clear that the titles of my pictures are not meant to be taken literally but are in fact my own poetic interpretation of the work, thought up usually after the work is complete.

'... The “Birth of Venus” has in its vague evocation a distinct suggestion of the primeval womb, birth place, cavern, source of fruitfulness and love - all ideas which did not suggest themselves to me when I was working.... But later, the title suggested itself, as associations presented themselves to me - and more than a static image seemed to be there - but truly an image of emergence, of becoming fruitful - of birth - the birth of Venus....

‘... Although every work of mine must inevitably bear the stamp of my own personality - I feel that each one must, to be satisfactory, be a new revelation of something hitherto unknown to me and I consider this evocation of the unknown to be the true function of any art.’

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I


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