Bridget Riley



Not on display
Bridget Riley born 1931
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2390 x 2023 mm
Purchased 1983

Display caption

'Achaian' belongs to the stripe paintings which Riley made between 1980 and 1985. In late 1979 she had visited Egypt for the first time. As a result of this experience Riley's use of colour underwent a further major development and she evolved what she called her 'Egyptian palette'. This is characterised by colours of greater intensity than she had used previously, a development accompanied by her decision to change from acrylic to oil paint. At the same time she returned to using stripes as the basis of her compositions. As in her stripe paintings of 1967-73, Riley's use of the stripe format represents a desire to use 'unassertive forms' which allow the colours to establish the painting's structure.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

T03816 Achaian 1981

Oil on canvas 94 × 79 3/4 (2390 × 2023)
Inscribed ‘Riley/' 81’ on edge of canvas b.l., ‘ACHAIAN, Riley 1981 Oil on linen’ along centre bar of stretcher, and ‘ACHAIAN, /Riley 1981/Oil on linen, 94 × 79 5/8’, ‘This painting looks/best in natural/daylight’ and ‘TOP ↑” (twice) on reverse
Purchased from the artist through Juda Rowan Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Lit: Robert Cumming, ‘Colour and Light: the Visit to Egypt’, Working with Colour, Recent Paintings and Studies by Bridget Riley, Arts Council, 1984 (n.p.)

‘Achaian’ is one of the ‘Egyptian’ series of paintings by Bridget Riley, which use a palette of colours derived from her experience of the landscape and tomb paintings of Egypt, seen on a visit in autumn 1981. Particular shades of these colours - yellow, blue, red and turquoise - she regarded as a breakthrough in that they gave the optical effect which she sought and are brighter and purer than the colours she had previously been using.

The cartoons for the paintings in this series were made from coloured strips of gouache, which were laid flat as if in a painting and yet could be rearranged. There is no regular system in the placing of the colours, which is not symmetrical, although in some places the sequence has the appearance of a reflection about a central colour.

The artist reads the painting horizontally across the bands, pointing to variations of hot and cold colour, with ‘accents’ in the design in certain places. The title was given after the painting was finished, and refers to the Greeks who made ‘the finest early sculpture - vigorous but simple’ (conversation of 11 April 1986) and which corresponded to the character of the painting as ‘dark and Mediterranean’.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986


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