Paule Vézelay

Eight Forms and Three Circles


Not on display

Paule Vézelay 1892–1984
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 730 × 1160 mm
frame: 791 × 1271 × 59 mm
Bequeathed by the artist 1985

Technique and condition

Eight Forms and Three Circles is painted in tube oil paint on a commercially primed cotton canvas. The canvas, which is soft and hairy, is sealed with a thick layer of glue size and a thin layer of white oil priming that creates a surface with tooth. The canvas is stretched on a six-member softwood expandable stretcher that has square-cut mortise and tenon joints at the corners. Crossbars are jointed to the outer bars with half-laps.

The position of each lozenge or circle was established at the outset in graphite pencil, probably with the aid of a template. An off-white background was carefully brushed up to and away from the edge of each shape working horizontally. The white paint was applied in a stiff paste around each form and then diluted slightly for the main body, so that it flowed into a smoother plane with as few brushstrokes as possible. Some areas were deliberately polished. The artist brushed colour into the reserved spaces soon after the background was applied and it disturbed the wet white background paint slightly, creating a tinted halo around each form.

Originally some of the lozenges were different colours. The pale green central lozenge was once a yellow ochre, while the lozenge above it and to the right was once a shade of sienna. At the same time as the shapes were re-painted, the background was overpainted in white by the artist. The painting is not varnished.

Eight Forms and Three Circles is in good condition. The few superficial grazes in the paint made by the artist resemble scars on the surface. There are a few later minor abrasions, which have been filled and retouched and are not apparent in normal viewing.

The painting is displayed in its original frame of dark grey outer moulding and white inner bevel. It is protected with water white low reflecting glass and a backboard to maintain its excellent condition.

Mary A. Bustin
October 2001

Catalogue entry

Paule Vézelay 1893-1984

T03956 Eight Forms and Three Circles 1959

Oil on canvas 730 x 1160 (28 3/4 x 45 11/16)
Inscribed ‘P VÉZELAY | 1959' on back on canvas t.r. and on a label removed from the stretcher and now separately preserved ‘OIL. Paule Vézelay | 1959. | "Eight forms & three Circles" | (on white) 60M.'
Presented by the artist's executors in accordance with her wishes 1985
Exh: Paule Vézelay Retrospective: Drawings, Collages, Paintings, Sculptures and Constructions 1916-1968, Grosvenor Gallery, Oct.-Nov. 1968 (63, repr. on back cover); Paule Vézelay, Tate Gallery, Feb.-March 1983 (39, repr. p.44)
Lit: Ronald Alley, ‘Introduction', in Paule Vézelay, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, Feb.-March 1983, p.13, repr. p.44. Also repr: London Magazine, new series vol.8, Oct. 1968, between pp.72 and 73

In the late 1940s Vézelay began to use paper cut-out shapes in composing her paintings. Clearly favoured by the artist, the combination of circle and elongated elipse or ‘flame' shapes found in T03956 occurs in several works of the 1950s, including, for example, ‘Untitled', 1954 (collection Michel Seuphor).

In an unpublished manuscript dated June 1970, Vézelay wrote of her love of using paper cut-out shapes. She recalled that as a young girl she had admired her family's collection of painted profiles and cut silhouettes. In the early 1920s she had made silhouettes to illustrate a book of short stories. She returned to this method of composition when commissioned in 1944 by the Société Industrielle de la Lys to make textile designs. ‘So it happened', she wrote, ‘that my old interest in silhouette again revived and I began to compose these designs with forms cut from coloured paper which gave the effect intended for the finished printed textile' (p.4). The great advantage of using cut-out shapes, she noted, was that they could be moved at will and easily duplicated. Vézelay evidently took great pleasure in making the paper shapes. ‘Silhouettes', she wrote

must be cut with great care, and a certain amount of skill, since the artist's hand must be able to guide the sharp points of the scissors over minute curves and into acute angles, swerving around bends; long and finely curved lines must also be cut if they are needed to carry the eye in one or another direction, and sometimes small circular forms are required to arrest the too vigorous ‘movement' created by some of the forms or angles.

Both hands can move simultaneously, but it may be necessary to cut a silhouette again and again in order to have one which is exactly as desired. These simple silhouettes have some of the power, and some of the dignity of the old Profiles; in rare moments they appear to be metamorphosed from small bits of paper into less inanimate fragments, indeed they almost seem animated by a ‘life' of their own, as they pull the eyes of the cutter in one or another direction - but perhaps only my imagination is responsible for this strange illusion (Paule Vézelay, ‘Meandering with Two Mediums', unpublished m.s., 1970, pp.4-5, [private collection]).

Commissioned by Ascher and Heals of London to make abstract designs for furnishing fabrics in the 1950s, Vézelay was one of the pioneers in this field in England. She showed her enthusiasm for this work when interviewed in 1959 by the magazine Furnishing World. ‘The whole standard of textile design has been raised in the most interesting way', she was reported as saying, ‘by the introduction of designs inspired by paintings. They have ceased to be something purely commercial and have formed a bridge between commercial and fine art' (‘Textile Designs Inspired By Paintings', Furnishing World, 7 Aug. 1959, p.29). ‘Designs of dignity and harmony need not lack that spirit of freedom which makes them authentically contemporary', she claimed, noting that it was ‘interesting' that a non-figurative textile design was more easily accepted by ‘many people who would be bewildered by the same design if it were an oil painting and shown at an art gallery' (ibid., p.31). Illustrations accompanying the article underlined the close relationship between Vézelay's textile designs and oil paintings. Beside a photograph showing the artist at work in her studio with the painting ‘Contrasted Forms in Grey' resting on the easel was a reproduction of one of her textile designs. Both the painting and the design employed the circle and elongated elipse or ‘flame' shapes arranged horizontally that are found in T03956. Although the shapes used in her textile designs and oil paintings were often similar, it was in her paintings that Vézelay was most evidently concerned with creating the illusion of differing degrees of depth and the effect of optical dazzle or vibration that is found in ‘Eight Forms and Three Circles'.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.288-9


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