William Coldstream 1908-1987


Mrs Enid Canning

Private Collection


2016, London, Piano Nobile, William Coldstream | Euan Uglow: Daisies and Nudes, 22 November 2016 - 14 January 2017, cat. no. 3, col. ill. p. 17. 


Bruce Laughton, The Euston Road School: A Study in Objective Painting (Aldershot, 1986), b/w ill., p. 206; as Cast and Rhododendron Leaves, c. 1939.

Colin St John Wilson, The Artist at Work: On the Working Methods of William Coldstream and Michael Andrews (Hampshire and Burlington VT, 1999), b/w ill., p. 13.; as Cast and Rhododendron Leaves, c. 1939.

Bruce Laughton, William Coldstream (New Haven and London, 2004), listed p. 339; as Plaster Cast and Rhododendron Leaves in a Glass Bottle, WMC 123, dated to 1946.

The dating of 'Still Life with a Statue' is slightly uncertain: Coldstream painted the work either shortly after the outbreak of WWII in 1939, alongside 'Still Life with a White Jar', c. 1939; Private Collection, or immediately after the war in 1946. 'Still Life with a Statue' was in the collection of Mrs Enid Canning, wife of Reverend Clifford Canning, the headmaster of Canford School in Dorset; Coldstream was great friends with the couple, painting both their portraits and entering into a lengthy correspondence with Enid, and 'Still Life with a Statue' was most likely painted whilst staying with them at Canford.

Coldstream almost exclusively painted directly from life, regarded by peers as “a paradigm of enlightened studio painting in the mid-twentieth century”, ensconced in the artificiality of the artist’s traditional environment. Coldstream often re-iterated the importance of a compelling, ‘literary’ subject matter to pique his creativity, but in 'Still Life with a Statue' it is perception itself, the very act of looking, which is interest enough. The self-contained space of the studio lent itself to this self-reflexive scrutiny. Familiar objects designed to test the faculties of the eye and hand are depicted in 'Still Life with a Statue'. Rhododendron leaves in a jar, a conventional still-life, presents the dual challenge of depicting complex materials – reflective glass – and perspective – the curve of the jar. The antique cast, in miniature, of a nude with elegant contrapposto seemingly a Roman marble with the tell-tale upright support poses the questions of anatomy and of sculptural solidity. One of Coldstream’s first acts as Professor of the Slade was to introduce ferns and other indoor plants into the cast room; clearly the perceptual challenge of 'Still Life with a Statue' was one he thought should be extended to his students.

Coldstream’s measuring system is in full evidence in 'Still Life with a Statue': a criss-cross of checking points mark where the contours of the cast intersect with a virtual grid of parallel vertical and horizontal lines. Working directly from life, Coldstream built up touch after touch straight onto a white canvas, covering the whole surface evenly. Here, strokes of paint in muted tones of ochre, beige, nude and green are added steadily, cautiously, guided and limited by measuring marks. These notches are testament to the gradual, meticulous evolution of the picture. In an interview with Rodrigo Moynihan in 1965, Coldstream explained that, “I feel the actual passage of time in some way or other is necessary in a painting.” Reality and canvas were rigorously correlated through measuring marks and brushstrokes accrued in tandem: Coldstream lays bare the artificiality of the studio and the presence of the artist’s hand.