Ceri Richards

Still Life with Music


Not on display

Ceri Richards 1903–1971
Oil paint, printed paper and graphite on canvas
Support: 432 × 486 mm
frame: 628 × 682 × 85 mm
Purchased 1974

Catalogue entry

Ceri Richards 1903–1971

T01862 Still Life with Music 1933

Inscribed ‘Ceri Richards/1933’ t.r.
Oil, collage and pencil on canvas, 17 x 19¿ (43 x 51).
Purchased from Fischer Fine Art Ltd (Grant-in-Aid) 1974.
Coll: Mrs Frances Richards; Fischer Fine Art Ltd.
Exh: Whitechapel Art Gallery, June–July 1960 (5, as ‘Still life with violin’); British Art and the Modern Movement 1930–1940, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, October-November1962 (48) as ‘Still Life’; Marlborough New London Gallery, June 1965 (2) as ‘Violin’; Fischer Fine Art Ltd, February–March 1974 (1, repr.) as ‘Still life with violin’.
Lit: John Russell in Introduction to Fischer Fine Art exhibition, p.6.

A label which was attached to the painting’s original backboard (and now held by the Conservation Department) is inscribed in the artist’s hand ‘STILL LIFE / WITH MUSIC/1933/Ceri Richards’.

The following note on T01862 incorporates information supplied by Mrs Frances Richards in letters of 8 August and 5 September 1974.

T01862 was painted at 26 St Peter’s Square, Hammersmith. Within the artist’s work of this period its combination of painting and collage is probably unique. He destroyed a lot of work and Frances Richards does not know of any surviving comparable works from around this date.

The style of the actual painting is similar to that of ‘Reclining Nude’ (1932), in its broad handling with the image almost flat against the picture plane.

Frances Richards mentioned that Richards was ‘making drawings directly related to Picasso’ at that time and that collage was being used by John Piper, their neighbour in Hammersmith, in landscapes and shore scenes from around 1932, and by Ben Nicholson, another friend.

The subject matter of the still life, violin and music, besides being traditional and found in the work of Braque, is an early example of Richards’ use of musical themes in his work. A ‘brilliant pianist, he regularly accompanied violinists’, and as well as incorporating some piano music (probably from a Beethoven sonata or a cadenza from a concerto), he has included a small fragment of accompanied violin music. An ink bottle completes the recognisable features in the painting.

A painting from 1934, ‘Still Life with violin’, is of the same subject matter as T01862 excluding the ink bottle, in a perspective view; it shows the table and is handled in a more painterly style.

The depiction of music occurs throughout Richards’ work. Sometimes he uses printed staff music as collage or else he writes or paints notes and staves to give the appearance of either manuscript or printed score. The constructions, which must have developed from his work with collage, sometimes included real music, for example ‘Relief Construction (music theme)’ 1934 and ‘Souvenir de la Cathédrale Engloutie: la belle chalice’1962.

According to Frances Richards he often scribbled out music, and she suggested that this might refer to the fact that Beethoven’s manuscripts were rough and untidy. The bottle of ink, therefore, can possibly be related to Richards’ feelings about the creative act itself, since it does not reappear in his work until ‘The Dylan Thomas Suite’, 1965, (‘Death shall have no Dominion ‘3a’ and ‘3b’) and ‘Beethoven Suite with Variations’, 1970 (‘Prometheus II’ and ‘The Inaudible Tenth’).

Although Richards used a great deal of personal symbolism, or ‘idioms, metaphors for the nature of existence, for the secrets of our time’ (quoted by J. R. Webster in Ceri Richards, Rhosllanerchrugog, 1961) Frances Richards pointed out that the inclusion of a particular object or piece of collage in a painting was just as much for aesthetic reasons as for the ideas associated with it, writing that ‘the formal qualities and subject matter certainly did attract him… the covers are used for pattern and colour.’

Although the collage has been painted over in places, it can be seen that there is paint underneath as well, but it is not possible to tell whether the canvas was painted entirely before collage was applied.

According to David Thompson (Ceri Richards, Methuen, London 1963, footnote 3) Richards ‘contributed a somewhat cubistic still-life and a Picassian nude to the Objective abstractions exhibition at the Zwemmer Gallery’ in March and April 1934. ‘Reclining Nude’, 1932, was illustrated in the catalogue, but since all the contributions to this exhibition were titled simply ‘Painting’ it is not possible to say whether T01862 was among them.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.

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