T03219 LIFE CLASS c. 1955–79
Oil on canvas, 48 × 84 1/2 (122 × 214)
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1981
Prov: Purchased from the artist through the New Grafton Gallery by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1979
Exh: RA, May–August 1964 (90, as ‘Life Class at the Byam Shaw’); Peter Greenham, New Grafton Gallery, April 1979 (1, as ‘Life Class’)
Repr: RA Illustrated, 1964, p.26
Peter Greenham started painting ‘Life Class’ in about 1955 to 1957 when he was co-principal of the Byam Shaw School of Art, Kensington, with Richard Thomas a stained-glass designer and Patrick Phillips, painter.
In a letter to the compiler postmarked 14 January 1983 Greenham wrote: ‘It was from half-a-dozen drawings I did in the life-class at the Byam Shaw that I began to paint the picture. At that time I used raw umber for the underpainting. I set the canvas up in the class room with the intention of finishing it there; but I found there were too many accidents of grouping and colour to do much except bring something here and something there to completion. I think the girl in the blue smock sitting half way to the mantelpiece is all that remains of these sessions. So I took the picture back to my own room and went on working from drawings, some of individuals, some of groups. After showing it at the Summer Exhibition I put it aside for ten years or more. Then I made more drawings and more changes. Figures came and went. There was a palette on the mantelpiece which went, because it drew the design up to the point. I repainted the model. If the picture had not been taken out of my hands, I daresay I would still be painting it.’
The main changes made in the composition between the picture as exhibited in 1964 and its present state were:
1. The model sat facing the left and now faces towards the bottom right hand corner of the picture.
2. Three figures to the right of the model have been removed.
3. The palette on the mantelpiece was removed.
4. Figures sitting on the floor have been added; originally there were none.
5. In the painting as exhibited in 1964 there were 12 figures and now there are 13.
The female figure in blue in front of the easel towards the left is the painter Jane Dowling, who is married to Peter Greenham. Because of the changes made in the painting the artist changed the title from that given when it was first exhibited.
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984
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