William Coldstream 1908-1987


With Anthony d'Offay
Private Collection, May 1982


1976, London, Anthony d'Offay and Edinburgh, Fine Art Society, William Coldstream, 13 Oct. - 12 Nov. 1976 and 20 Nov. - 14 Dec. 1976, cat. no. 12
1977, Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Real Life, 2 June - 6 Sept. 1977, unnumbered
1979, Los Angeles, L.A. Louver Gallery, This Knot of Life: Paintings by British Artists, 23 Oct. - 22 Nov. 1979, unnumbered


This Knot of Life: Paintings by British Artists, 1979, exh. cat. L.A. Louver, p. 11 (illus.)
Peter T.J. Rumley, William Coldstream: Catalogue Raisonné, 2018, Sansom & Co., cat. no. 160, p. 126 (col. illus.)
Girl at a Window depicts a model called Anna Bennett. It was painted at 20 Church Row, Hampstead and required no fewer than 127 ½ hours of work. It is exactingly executed and characteristically suggests a quiet atmosphere of focused attention. The circumstances of the painting were meticulously recorded in Coldstream’s diary, where he routinely documented his subjects, the place where he painted them, and the number of hours involved in the production of each painting. Bennett was a regular model for Coldstream at the time, sitting for three portraits and one nude. The work was painted in the attic of 20 Church Row, a studio Coldstream had used before and which he was offered the use of in May 1973. (The house’s owner, Anne Stokes, was recently bereaved by the death of her husband, the painter Adrian Stokes, and welcomed having a regular visitor to the house.) This attic was to be Coldstream’s last studio.

The precise habits Coldstream displayed in keeping his diary are closely related to his fastidious approach to composition and execution. To construct his paintings, he would measure the precise distances between the objects in his line of sight. His finished works reveal the precision of this activity. The surface of Girl at a Window retains the precise horizontals and verticals marked-in to establish the relationship between a single point in space and other points around it. At the corner of her left eye, for instance, a small but exacting upright and vertical have been marked, a detail that helped Coldstream place the face’s salient features. These markings are highly characteristic of his work and the rich abundance of them in Girl at a Window produces a bravura display of precise measuring. The finished result amounts to a personal style of rigorous empiricism.

Coldstream is often connected with his fellow teachers at the short-lived Euston Road School, the painters Claude Rogers, Graham Bell and Victor Pasmore. More recently, however, the art historian Catherine Lampert has brought to light Coldstream’s salutary connection with certain ‘School of London’ painters, describing him as ‘an exceptionally intelligent and perceptive artist’ who made ‘radical work’. At the same time as painting Girl at a Window, he was at work on a portrait of Lucian Freud (1976, Private Collection). It was one Monday in August of 1976 that Coldstream put the finishing touches to this work of Anna Bennett in Hampstead, before travelling to the Slade and painting Freud in the afternoon.

At Coldstream’s behest, Freud periodically taught at the Slade for the duration of Coldstream’s time as principal. Frank Auerbach has furthermore expressed his admiration for Coldstream as an artist. In a short piece for Coldstream’s catalogue raisonné, published in 2018, Auerbach wrote: ‘With time the scaffolding, of idiom, of ‘measurement’, of ‘austerity’, of a conscious, rigorous probity, has been dismantled and what is revealed is totally convincing, totally organic and immensely distinguished.’ With these connections in mind, a painting like Girl at a Window should no longer be considered exclusively in bland terms of ‘realism’ but, rather, alongside the most lively and observational figure paintings produced in the twentieth century.