Dame Ethel Walker

The Zone of Love: Decoration


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Not on display

Dame Ethel Walker 1861–1951
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2440 × 2440 mm
Presented by the artist 1946

Technique and condition

This is an unvarnished oil painting on a commercially prepared canvas which was re-stretched during the creation of the painting to extend its height. This is evidenced by the original tacking margin now that now sits within the picture plane, toward the top edge. The artist used a dry graphic medium such as charcoal to sketch out the main composition, and these outlines remain visible in the final image. It is possible that in accordance with the known practice of the artist, the lines of the initial preparatory sketch were painted over using a brush dipped in turpentine, since these lines also appear somewhat fluid.

The artist has use a very varied palette of numerous colours (cadmium red, cadmium yellow, cobalt blue, French ultramarine, iron oxide, lead white, zinc white), and there is a significant degree of wet-in-wet mixing of many colours at once, which has the effect of creating slightly ‘muddy’ tones. The wet-in-wet rapid working evident in this painting is typical of the technique of the artist, who often finished paintings in a single sitting, although this may be less likely to be the case for Zone of Love, given its size. The painting has a fairly matte surface which may be partly the result of the artist diluting her paints and brushing them thinly over the canvas. There are also regions of impasto, which are more medium rich particularly in passages where pure daubs of colour were used to define details, create highlights and reinforce edges.

The painting is in good condition, but has a moderate degree of surface dirt. There are also localised areas of water sensitivity generally associated with the purer tones of cobalt blue, cadmium yellow and ultramarine paints. Water sensitivity is commonly encountered in unvarnished oil paintings and is an area of ongoing research (see the Cleaning Modern Oil Paints project). A magnesium carbonate extender was identified in blue and maroon coloured paints which indicates the use of Winsor & Newton oil paints. Calcium carbonate and barium sulphate were also found in the paints, these are also common extender pigments. The painting is not framed or glazed.

Further reading
Alice Strang (ed.), Modern Scottish Women: Painters and Sculptors, 1885–1965 , Edinburgh, 2015.
Brian Louis Pearce, Dame Ethel Walker: An Essay in Reassessment, Exeter, 1997.

Judith Lee
February 2017

Research on this work was carried out as part of an AHRC funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at Tate, 2013–2016.

Catalogue entry


Inscr. ‘Ethel Walker’ b.l.
Canvas, 96 1/2×97 (245×246·5).
Presented by the artist 1946.

Exh: R.A., 1932 (436); International Exhibition, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, October–December 1933 (149, repr. pl.70); Mural Decorative Paintings, Whitechapel Art Gallery, May–June 1935 (25); Wildenstein, November–December 1936 (12); R.A., 1942 (181); N.E.A.C., February–March 1945 (269).
Lit: Mary Chamot, ‘Ethel Walker’ in Apollo, XIII, 1931, p.308; Mary Chamot, Modern Painting in England, 1937, p.63; John Rothenstein, Modern English Painters: Sickert to Smith, 1952, p.84.

The artist stated about 1931 that this idyllic subject had been in her mind as a companion to N05669 for over fifteen years before she felt in the mood to complete it. A watercolour sketch for it was exhibited at the Redfern Gallery, February 1927 (29), and is reproduced in Artwork, III, 1927–8, p.72.

The artist's friend, Miss Grace English, who met her for the first time on 23 December 1931, writes (typescript MS., f.24): 'This picture [i.e. ‘The Zone of Love’] was painted soon after I met her, but I had seen the preliminary sketches and water colour paintings before, in the New English Art Club and other exhibitions. For these sketches she used models in her studio and often used her quick sketch drawings done at the Chelsea Polytechnic evening classes, where she used to go for practice, like other artists. The final large canvases of these decorations were done up in her Robin Hood's Bay cottage, in the lovely light of the Summer months. ... In contrast to “The Zone of Hate”, where the forces of evil are shown destroying the suffering, sinking figure of mankind, “The Zone of Love” is conceived in a lighter key and has a peaceful serene atmosphere. Here also the soul is represented as a young girl just awakening into the celestial sphere. Her guardian angel attends her, and another angel is holding out her heavenly raiment. The landscape is adorned with birds and flowers, and a host of angels is seen in the background.

‘These allegorical paintings were inspired by Ethel Walker's enthusiastic interest in the religious doctrines of Swedenborg and of the East.’

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II

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