This painting was completed in 1990 and given a title ‘Still Life (sketch). When I look at it now, I think of all the questions I never asked when I had the chance.
It is one of only four other canvases of Jenny’s painted between 1970 and 1990 which we still have. These are the others: from the left, Still Life, 1970; Still Life (White, 1983/?1986; Still Life (with paper cone), 1990*
Still Life arrangements of groups of domestic pots were completely usual subjects for Jenny to draw, make prints of, or paint. Her oil paintings up to this date all have a neutral palette enlivened with yellow. So Still Life (Sketch) painted in 1990, is part of this pattern. It was hung on the wall of Jenny’s studio and I saw nothing unusual about it until I embarked on a catalogue of Jenny’s oil paintings as her Art Executor. Then I discovered Still Life (White), which had never been framed or hung, and which I had never seen, and I was puzzled.
Why she had painted almost the same arrangement of mostly the same pots as in Still Life (White)? Was she dissatisfied with the 1986 canvas? This has an alternative date, on a photograph label, of 1983, so there could be as long as 7 years between the two paintings. Although she did not display ‘White’, in fact it is not backed, she had kept it and she had signed it on the back. Why did she call the 1986 canvas Still Life (White) when the table cloth is yellow and the wall cream? And why is the 1990 version of the arrangment called ‘Sketch’ when it seems more accomplished and finished than the earlier work?
I can’t get answers to these questions now, and it’s all too probable that Jenny herself might not have had answers, but as I look at the two paintings, having just finished a list of the prints from 1970-74 , it strikes me that the difference in finish between them could mark a change in her attitude to working with oil paints, as opposed to print making which had been her main focus in the 1970s . Compared with ‘White’, ‘Sketch’ and ‘Still Life (with paper cone)’ have a solidity and a certainty about them which reminds me of the prints from 20 years earlier. ‘Sketch’ marks the beginning of a new confidence in her handling of oils. So perhaps that is part of the answer: it was sketching a new path: and the 1990s did see her return to oil painting.
*Three yeas later, when after the death of a dear friend, another mid 1980’s oil emerged – see https://jennymcnultyartist.com/picture-in-focus-earth-story/ But that really is another story.