John Lessore

Diana and Actaeon at the Byam Shaw


Not on display

John Lessore born 1939
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1522 × 1522 mm
frame: 1615 × 1615 × 76 mm
Presented by the executors of the estate of David Wilkie 1993

Display caption

This was inspired by Titian's painting, 'Diana and Actaeon' in the National Gallery of Scotland. It was the product of a teaching residency by Lessore at the Byam Shaw School of Art in north London, when the artist was teaching composition. Lessore got three of his students to act as models and to adopt the poses of the figures in Titian's painting. Lessore and his other students then amalgamated these poses into the composition of the paintings on which they were working. Unlike other Titian-inspired works in Wilkie's collection this work was therefore not a commission. Instead Wilkie acquired it after seeing it exhibited at the Royal Academy.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Technique and condition

The painting was executed on a fairly light-weight cotton duck canvas which is attached to a fixed strainer with wire staples at the rear. The cotton was prepared with one or two very thin layers of a white pigmented ground, which was possibly bound in an acrylic medium, although the artist has also used grounds based on other media. The overall priming is very thin and the canvas weave texture is still clearly visible through it. The priming covers the stretched face of the canvas but does not extend around the edges.

The paint is oil colour and has been applied exclusively by brush in a rather loose and vigorous manner with use made of both wet on dry and wet-in-wet techniques. The paint covers most of the stretched face of canvas to the same point as the ground, although occasionally the white ground layer is visible. The palette used is polychrome, but mostly limited to reds, pinks and greys, all of which are predominantly opaque. Most of the paint would have had a vehicular and paste-like quality, and was probably used straight from the tube, although some use of a diluent to thin the paint slightly is also evident. These areas are consequently much leaner in medium and produce a much flatter and more matt paint film. Also affecting the surface texture of the paint in many areas are numerous brush hairs which were caught in the paint as it dried. The number of layers used to create the particular colour or surface quality varies somewhat from a single thin layer in some places, for example in the thinner and drier passages of the red curtain on the left of the painting to the more usual use of at least two layers, although often these have blended to form a thicker, single layer. The paint was generally applied in thin layers and even in areas where there are more than two layers, the canvas weave texture is still apparent.

The painting is not varnished. The frame is not original and was constructed in 1994 at the Tate Gallery. It consists of an inner L-section frame which fits inside the outer (visible) section. The painting is in excellent condition. The strainer and cotton duck fabric are rigid and consequently providing good support for the paint layers above, which themselves are not showing any signs of cracking or other forms of deterioration. Providing the correct measures are taken when handling the work, it should remain in this near-pristine state for an appreciable length of time.

Tom Learner
November 1997

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