How should an Art Executor treat a work which comes to light and about which nothing or almost nothing is known?
This is the dilemma posed by ‘Spiral’, another unexpected work we found in the plan chest, and even more of a shock than 7 previously unknown paper reliefs. This Still Life gouache was in a folder marked ‘best proofs’, and we found it when we started to catalogue Jenny’s etchings. Not only had we had never seen it before, we had no idea she had ever worked in gouache. It is executed on watercolour paper and mounted on paper cut from the back of an etching from an edition of 1973. There is a title and a date on the back of the mount paper, but it isn’t signed.
It features 5 pots grouped with a scallop shell, a snail, a paper cone, and a brick. The pots are favourites which feature in prints and oils from earlier and later periods. The paper cone, placed prominently just off centre, is a key element and appears similarly in three other Still Life works from 1986-1990. The overall feel of the arrangement looks back to the oils Still Life (White) and Still Life (Sketch), below.
Still Life (White) 1986 Oil on canvas 31 x 51 cm Still Life (Sketch) 1990 oil on canvas 36 x 30 cm Still Life with Paper Cone, 1990 36 x 30 cm
For the Art Executor finding a work like this poses several questions. Most importantly, how did the artist view it? Why is it there? Did she forget about it or think it was destroyed, or was it in with the ‘best proofs’ for a reason? There are no other works in gouache, maybe it is a failed experiment, or possibly she intended to rework it as an etching when the opportunity presented itself. When did she mount it and add the title? ‘Spiral’ must refer to the arrangement of elements: between 1996 and 2000 she gave other Still Life oil paintings titles based on their arrangements: for example ‘Curve‘ and ‘Triangle of Objects‘. Was the title of Spiral an afterthought? Or is it drawing attention to the snail shell, which later appears prominently in three vanitas paintings?
Still Life with Pear 1997 Oil on Canvas 61×61 cm Still Life (Circle of Stones) 1999 Oil on canvas 31×62 cm Still Life with Bay Leaves 1999 Oil on canvas. 46x46cm
The question I would most like to know the answer to is why Jenny never showed it to us. If it was because she was really dissatisfied with it, as her Art Executor am I justified in bringing it to prominence? But that is what I am going to do. Apart from its instrinsic beauty, which I would like to share, I feel that it again casts light on the transition Jenny made from etching to oil painting – it is especially poignant that she used the back of a discarded etching as a mount. Despite the mount as a work it feels quite fragile, so I have commissioned an edition of no more than 20 giclee prints from Fine Art Printers Chaudigital. To begin with these will be available from the Spencer House Gallery, Tetbury. Their Summer Show, which starts on 21st July, will also display three of Jenny’s still life oil paintings in which some of the same pots also appear.