Adrian Stokes

Still Life: Last Eleven (No. 11)


Not on display

Adrian Stokes 1902–1972
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 356 × 457 mm
frame: 380 × 480 × 44 mm
Purchased 1983

Catalogue entry


Oil on canvas, 356 x 457 mm (14 x 18 in)
Inscribed on top canvas surplus by Ann Stokes Angus ‘15/11 1972 Last “Last 11”’

Purchased from Mrs Ann Stokes Angus, the artist’s widow (Grant-in-Aid) 1983

The Last Paintings of Adrian Stokes, Tate Gallery, London, Feb.-March 1973 (no catalogue)
Adrian Stokes, Arts Council tour, Serpentine Gallery, London, June-July 1982, Huddersfield Art Gallery, July-Aug., City Museum and Art Gallery, Gloucester, Sept.-Oct. 1982 (127, repr. in col. as Still Life: Last Eleven)
The Hard Won Image: Traditional Method and Subject in Recent British Art, Tate Gallery, London, July-Sept. 1984 (128)

Richard Wollheim, ‘Adrian Stokes’, Listener, 28 Dec. 1972, p.900
John Russell, ‘Review’, Sunday Times, 25 Feb. 1973
Nigel Gosling, ‘Review’, Observer, 25 Feb. 1973
Lawrence Gowing, ‘True to Form’, New Statesman, 2 March 1973, p.316
Michael McNay, ‘Adrian Stokes’, Guardian, 3 March 1973
Marina Vaizey, ‘Adrian Stokes, John Hubbard’, Financial Times, 5 March 1973
Christopher Fox, ‘Review’, Studio International, vol.185, no.954, April 1973, p.153
Keith Roberts, ‘Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions’, Burlington Magazine, vol.115, no.841, April 1973, p.263
Richard Wollheim, ‘Adrian Stokes, Critic, Painter, Poet’, 4th William Townsend lecture, Slade School of Art, 1978, extended version published Times Literary Supplement, 17 Feb. 1978, p.207, reprinted in Stephen Bann (ed.), ‘Adrian Stokes 1902-72’, supplement, PN Review, 15, vol.7 no.1, 1980, p.37
Richard Wollheim, ‘On Adrian Stokes’s Paintings 1972’, Adrian Stokes, exh. cat., Serpentine Gallery, London 1982, p.18
Richard Wollheim, ‘An Artist Who Practiced What he Preached’, Times Higher Educational Supplement, 18 June 1982, pp.12-13
Robert Melville, ‘The Last Eleven’, London Review of Books, 15 July-4 Aug. 1982, p.18
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1982-4, London 1986, pp.330-6, repr.
Ann Buchanan Crosby, ‘Souvenir de Adrian Stokes’, Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne, no.25, autumn 1988, pp.9-12

Adrian Stokes painted eleven still lifes between early September 1972, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, and his death on 15 December. This is the last of the series of eleven works, nine of which belong to the Tate. A fuller account of the series, details of its circumstances and problems in dating may be found in the catalogue entry of Still Life: Last Eleven (No.3) (Tate T03587).

For an earlier Tate Gallery catalogue the artist’s widow, Ann Stokes Angus, proposed an order for the eleven paintings in the series.[1] This one - Still Life: Last Eleven (No.11) - was his final work. Though only one, No.10 (Tate T03585), was dated by the artist, No.6 (Tate T03580) and No.11 were both dated by his wife: the former ‘3/11/72’, presumably soon after its completion, the latter ‘15/11 1972’. However, she and Richard Wollheim recalled that No.11 was completed on 13 December, thirty-six hours before Stokes died, and she said that her inscription on its back ‘was a straight forward mistake for 15/12/72 [though] this probably should be the 14/12/72’. She explained the confusion by the fact she often made the ‘mistake [of] calling Dec. the 11th month’.[2]

The circumstances of the making of this last painting were especially remarkable. Though most of the series was painted in Stokes’s attic studio, from late November his decreasing physical powers had forced him to work in closer proximity to his wife and the last three or four paintings were executed in her pottery in the basement.[3] David Plante, a friend of the artist and owner of Still Life: Last Eleven (No.1), recalled that by the end of November Stokes ‘was hardly able to hold the brush’,[4] and Ann Buchanan Crosby has described how she observed Ann Stokes Angus help him:

She was crouching beside him, his paint brushes in her hand, his palette was on a table beside his easel ... Adrian would groan and indicate which blob of colour he wished Ann to dab a brush into ... He grasped the brush from her and would aim a sure stroke or perhaps two onto the canvas, then jab the brush back to her.[5]

In fact, Ann Stokes Angus explained that it was only this work - the final painting - with which she helped. She recalled that Stokes ‘took longer over the last 3 and was unable to start the No.10 for several days. No.11 was very, very difficult’.[6] She added later:

On the Last of the ‘Last 11’ ... he sat in front of the canvas & said ‘You paint it’. I said ‘How can I paint your picture’ he repeated ‘you paint it’ ... As he wouldn’t start I sat close behind him & asked where he wanted it started & what colour, & though he could scarcely communicate with ordinary words he showed me what he wanted ... to my relief he got interested in the brush, took it from me & scrubbed out what I had done but for a bit of background & did the whole picture himself. I think he finished it the next day which must have been Wed ... At the end of the last painting session ... he dropped his brushes deliberately, with a clatter & murmured words to the effect that it was finished. I was quite aware that he meant everything was finished.[7]

Nevertheless, No.11 is consistent with the rest of the series. In common with all but one of the nine works owned by the Tate, it was painted on a prepared canvas (Lefranc). As in the others, the density of the oil paint varies from very thin washes to isolated areas of impasto, a few of which are unusually thick for Stokes, and there are areas of bare ground. A high thinner content gave the paint a largely matt finish and made runs and dribbles a feature of the technique. The colouring of the paintings is continuous with Stokes’s earlier work, though the lighter palette of a number of them is distinctive. With No.5 and No.9 (Tate T03582, T03586), No.11 is one of the lightest, with flecks of white punctuating its predominantly grey, green and pink composition. It is in good condition, though on acquisition it had a bulge from impact or pressure damage.

Chris Stephens
July 1998

[1] Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1982-4, London 1986, pp.330-6.
[2] Ann Stokes Angus, letter to Tate, 2 April 1986, Tate catalogue files.

[3] Ibid.
[4] David Plante, letter to Tate, 16 March 1986, Tate catalogue files.

[5] Ann Buchanan Crosby, ‘Souvenir de Adrian Stokes’, Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne, no.25, autumn 1988, pp.9-12, trans. Tate Gallery cataloguing files, courtesy of the author.

[6] Letter to Tate, 2 April 1986.

[7] Ann Stokes Angus, letter to Tate, 8 April 1986, Tate catalogue files.

You might like