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When Dod began painting the style and practice in Britain was still dominated by the idealized approach of Victorian artists as exhibited at the Royal Academy; nudes were stylized and carefully constructed reminiscent of the godlike statues of Greece. The change in ethos, which Dod was to demonstrate in her female nudes, shifted from this remoteness to painting realistic recognizable figures with a more contemporary reference whilst maintaining a deep understanding of the Old Masters. Virginal integrates classical and symbolic elements such as the dove held by the model; its meaning in this case one of sensual innocence. The attitude of the figure also mirrors Lucas Cranach’s sensuous nude of 1592, “Venus standing in a Landscape”, now in the Louvre. Yet Virginal also has its feet firmly set in the present. The painting displays the classic modernist realism of Gerald Leslie Brockhurst and Meredith Frampton and was influenced by her modern heroes Renoir and Picasso. It has a sculptural, monumental strength and shows very clearly the thoroughly absorbed influence of Picasso whose immense arms and legs she found intensely satisfying; Renoir’s depiction of the female figure is evident here too. Having studied at the Carl Rossi School in Paris Dod Proctor also experienced the full impact of Seurat and Cezanne’s use of light and the short brush strokes, which at close range appear random, when viewed from a distance blend into a whole in celebration of the human form; the purples, greens and pinks create skin tones as varied as Lucien Freud’s.
Dod’s nudes would impress and unnerve the viewing public of the day. Anthony Bertram, the renowned critic, insisted that “without cubism Mrs Proctor could never have existed” and she herself described how she had “digested” Picasso into her painting as evidenced by some of her monumental figures such as Virginal and Morning.
In the 1920’s Dod concentrated on painting single often monolithic forms, mostly female and many of them nudes. The reduction of the background content and focus on the form using a selective tonal range and meticulous brush work, creates these expressive solid forms and shows us her understanding of and essential sympathy with femininity. Cissie Barnes was about 23 years old when she modeled for Virginal; the art critic Anthony Bertram noted “she can clothe her definite forms with a pearly and exquisite flesh, the shimmer of various stuffs, the sensuous appeal of colour”.
Cissie, a local fisherman’s daughter and her preferred model at the time, lies draped on a bed in Morning which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1927 where it received national acclaim and won ‘Picture of the year’. Its immediate success delighted and astonished Dod and it was purchased for the Nation; it hangs in room 9 at Tate Modern. The fame she enjoyed was renewed in 1929 when Virginal was submitted to the RA and turned down by the hanging committee. The rejection of Virginal caused a sensation and the painting was acclaimed by the press and public alike, receiving as much press coverage as Morning. Dod Proctor considered Virginal to be one of her most important works and it drew large enthusiastic audiences who flocked to the Leicester Galleries where it was exhibited later that year. From a 21st century standpoint, it is hard to understand why Dod’s painting was refused. Writing in 2004, Judith Collins considered the visibility of pubic hair and women’s genitals as unacceptable to various members of the Academy’s Hanging Committee. In her catalogue on Proctor’s exhibition of 1990, Elizabeth Knowles presumes that it was rejected for being “too shocking” and Annette Robinson writing in “The Peninsular Voice” at the same time described her work as “fleshy and seductive”.
In 1930 Dod received a commendation at the most important annual exhibition of art in America, the 29th Carnegie Institute International Exhibition of Modern Painting, in the company of Georges Braque, Andre Derain, Alfred Munnings, Matisse and Picasso. Frank Ruhrmund, writing in 1974 at the time of the Proctor’s Newlyn exhibition, was full of praise “ the relationship between form, colour and texture is well nigh perfect, it is constructed in such depth that it tends to make everything near it appear thin and transient”.
1929 New English Arts Club
1934 Elected Associate of the Royal Academy – only the third woman since the Academy’s foundation in 1768
1942 Elected Member of the Royal Academy – only the second female Royal Academician in the 20th century following in the footsteps of her friend, Dame Laura Knight, who had been elected in 1936
Member of the St. Ives Society of Artists
Sold by the Fine Art Society in 1974
English Private Collection 1974 - 2011
Brook Street Art Gallery
Cooling & Sons Gallery
Fine Art Society – Virginal exhibited 1973
Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts
The International Society
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
Leicester Gallery – Virginal exhibited for the first time - 1929
Manchester City Art Gallery
New English Arts Club
Royal Scottish Academy
Society of Women Artists
The Venice Biennale
Fine Arts at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, US
The Lang Art Gallery
Single Artist exhibition in Liverpool and Penzance
A Singluar Vision Dod Proctor 1890-1972 by Alison James pub. 2007
|Height||173.00 cm||(68.11 inches)|
|Width||61.00 cm||(24.02 inches)|