Anthony Eyton

Open Window, Spitalfields


Not on display

Anthony Eyton born 1923
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2438 × 1727 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1982

Display caption

This painting shows the view from the artist's studio in an eighteenth century house in east London. Eyton made a number of paintings of the view seen here, which includes a derelict house and a synagogue. This painting was worked on over a period of five years, during which time the view inevitably changed as houses were refurbished. Eyton chose a large canvas because he wanted to express the immediacy of the scene. 'All the time I wanted it to be a true record about the houses opposite and what they looked like seen from one spot, in a particular grey light'. The frontality of the composition was influenced by his love of Italian Renaissance painting.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed on reverse ‘EYTON/166 Brixton Rd/sw9/“Trafalgar Square”’
Oil on canvas, 96 × 68 (243.8 × 172.7)
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1982
Prov: Purchased from the artist by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1981
Exh: Anthony Eyton, Browse and Darby, September–October 1981 (no catalogue); RA, May–August 1982 (672)
Lit: Terence Mullaly, ‘A Flood of Memories’, Daily Telegraph, 22 September 1981 (repr.); Anthony Green, introduction to RA Illustrated, 1982 ( colour, p.21)
Repr: Interiors, September 1982, p.162 (a colour photograph of part of Gallery Three in the RA Summer Exhibition, 1982, in which T03339 can be seen)

This picture was painted in Anthony Eyton's studio at 34 Hanbury Street, London E.I., which he began to use in 1968; it shows part of the view through the back window. The following account of the picture's subject and development was written by Eyton on 31 October 1982. At that time he had recently virtually given up the Hanbury Street studio, but subsequently he resumed its use and began new window pictures painted from it.

'The house in which I had a studio was built in 1705. There were equally old houses opposite, the backs of Princelet Street. Further to the right was a view of Christchurch, Spitalfields and I painted several views of this through the window frame prior to painting the houses straight ahead. My first window picture was painted in 1964 in Brixton. When in Italy in 1974 for six months I remember thinking à propos of the facades of buildings in an Italian hill town called Vittorchiano that I would paint the buildings outside my studio window on my return. The fascination of these buildings lay in the dereliction of an empty house, and to the left a renovated house with blue windows, and a Jewish synagogue at a right angle on the right. They seemed like a cliff arising out of the flat roof in front. I painted at least four fairly large versions mostly through the glazing bars of the windows in various sorts of light.

'On 17th November 1976 I noted in my diary “started another window on the Pantheon canvas, and pm on the Trafalgar Square (canvas). This gave a great sense of peace and almost ‘Chinese’ calmness ... a very good day's work with large brushes”. [The painting begun that day on the Trafalgar Square canvas was T03339].

'The picture of Trafalgar Square I considered a failure. I had started a beach scene on it. As the size - just under eight foot - seemed appropriate for the window I wiped the already dry beach painting off with turpentine and impulsively started on the window. I felt its size would express the immediacy of what I saw and be a summing up of the other window pictures. This time the window was open so that it became a large rectangle of space in a rectangle. The canvas stood upright on the floor lodged against a nail in a beam of the ceiling so it was as large as the room could take. I felt some trepidation due to its being a very large picture to paint from nature, and in the course of painting needed encouragement, generously given by Patrick Symons and on 3rd April 1977 by Mary Laughton. “She advised me about the 8 foot window, to tail it off to the right. Unquestionably (with less window frame on the right) it has less constriction and is more dynamic and spatial”.

'I recall doing other types of painting at the same time, principally figures on beaches. The difference in subject and treatment, together with the window pictures pacing one another kept the situation open and allowed me to come more freshly to one particular work.

'At first the picture was fluid. All the time I wanted it to be a true record about the houses opposite and what they looked like seen from one spot, in a particular grey light. Only gradually did the details coalesce. There were several complete repaintings and major movements specially the position of the window sill. I had to have recourse to measuring yet not let it interfere with my reactions. I noted in my diary at that time a quotation from Monet with reference to his painting haystacks, “... I see one must work very hard to succeed in rendering what I am looking for: instantaneity specially the envelope, the same diffused light everywhere”. To keep the whole canvas going at the same time was vital, yet I had to sometimes move in. I felt it important that the paint should be lodged to express the reality of that scene with the quirks of roof formation and strange chimneys. The light had not to be too bright to make grey and dull the local colours, the blue windows and the variety of colours in the brickwork.

'I found confirmation in what I saw in front of me in Ambrogio Lorenzetti's ‘Good Government’ in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena with regard to the colouring and details of the buildings; and in the plain pink brick addition to the empty house found echoes in Masaccio's ‘St Peter and John distributing Alms’ in the Brancacci Chapel, Florence; and initially in Rothko's horizontal divisions.

'Perhaps the most emotive parts of the buildings were the roof of the deserted house, the pink addition below it, together with the gaping holes of the dark windows. But I must not forget the vital part played by the chimney stack two stories high, with its orange chimney pot, arising out of the flat grey roof in front of the houses.

'In nearly 5 years there were bound to be changes. The house on the left changed for the better in that partial make-shift repairs were made to it, a white wall was knocked down in front of it so that more was revealed and an attractive shiny piece of plastic sheeting acted like drapery. At one point I painted in a chair inside the room. All these changes freshened my responses, and the chair, although later taken out made me think more positively of the interior wall of the studio.

'On 10th of June 1981 I noted “After a bright start it got sufficiently dull to go to the studio. I put in a good 2 1/2 hours on Window and believe it's getting firmer and better. I think for me it's a commitment”.

'Paintings can go disastrously wrong, I knew I was fairly near the end. One bit overworked could be over-heavy and lower the impact of the whole. Who knows but that exterior intervention may have been beneficial to the picture after all? For on Friday 12th of June I saw men with pick axes knocking down the pink outhouse. “The brick outhouse had almost gone on the houses opposite. One day too late. I guess the painting is finished therefore. I hardly shed a tear, but I would have liked one more day for the brick shed is what I would have done”.

'It seems that this picture is a culmination of pictures from nature to do with buildings which I painted in Italy during several visits. Certainly its frontality came from a love of Renaissance painting, and I can see that the antiquity of Italian hill towns and the crumbling facades of Spitalfields provide a parallel. Undoubtedly there was the extra formal problem of relating the inside of the studio to the outside buildings, and the modern block of flats beyond these. The fact that while painting this one picture for nearly 5 years I was at the same time painting from drawings (figures on beaches, and later people in India) makes it mysterious to me why I go happily from one to the other. On the one hand there seems the promise of stillness and architectural actuality, on the other there is the excitement of suggestion and implied movement in the figures. On balance the Window picture represents a greater risk because I had to record the subject and yet have light and structure at the same time.’

In answer to later questions, Anthony Eyton explained that although work on the Tate's picture was not continuous, it was restricted not by season but only by weather conditions. He provided the following details of related works:

Pictures of same buildings

'Back Yards, Spitalfields’, 1975–6 43 × 51 1/2 in. (exh. RA 1977)

'Sunlit Window, Spitalfields’, 1976–8 56 7/16 × 56in. (ref. diary entry 17 Nov. 1976, ‘started another Window on the Pantheon canvas...’)

'Christine, Open Window’, 1976–8 72 × 48in. (started as a plain window. Figure added later)

'Window in Spitalfields’ 1976–8 53 3/4 × 46 1/8in. [repr. catalogue of Eyton retrospective, 1980, p.20]

'There were at least 3 smaller pictures, but none worth mentioning.’

Pictures looking sideways to Christchurch

'Christchurch Spitalfields, Evening’ 1976 49 × 32in. (exh. RA 1977)

'Christchurch Spitalfields’ 1978 62 × 46in. [reproduced 1980 retrospective catalogue, p.21]

'Christchurch Spitalfields’ 1978-not completed

'Christchurch, Spitalfields through a Window’ 1976–8 56 × 47in. (exh. RA 1977, and continued)

'Christchurch Spitalfields’ 1978–9 74 × 56in. (Coll. W. H. Smith & Son)

'Christchurch Spitalfields and a Man on a Roof’ 1976–7 c. 20 × 16in.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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