Nancy Carline Centenary exhibition, 1909-2004
NANCY CARLINE 1909-2004
presented by Hermione and Francis Carline
Saturdays & Sundays 14 – 29 November 2009
11am – 6pm; and on other days by appointment
NANCY CARLINE, 1909 – 2004
A celebration of her work
Our mother would have reached 100 years at the end of this November. Her life spanned almost
the entire 20th century, and she witnessed its profound cultural and political changes.
Yet she followed her own artistic intuition, choosing her own influences based on her
love of literature and music as well as painting. She developed an early fascination with
heroic literary or historical figures of the past, and her vivid imagination was fired by storiesfrom mythology.
It was inevitable that Nancy would become an artist, and by twenty she was a studentat the Slade School. Professor Henry Tonks seemed to her at first a severe, forbidding figure:
yet she came to have “complete confidence in Tonks and his judgement”. She appreciatedthe narrow, rigorous training at the Slade, where the first year was devoted to drawingin pencil from the casts of antique sculpture. In her second year she was given permission
to draw (still with hard pencil) short poses from the life model—in the female Life Room,
as male and female students were segregated at the classes. Eventually she was permitted to
paint in oil, first two antique heads, then the live model. In her final year she was taught by
Allan Gwynne-Jones,Professor of Painting,who still favoured a traditional approach.At this
time the Slade regarded all ‘modern’ art with disfavour.
An opportunity emerged for her in 1933 to be employed
voluntarily at Sadler’s Wells Ballet, where she worked on
costumes for Lilian Baylis and Ninette de Valois. One of her
tasks was to paint directly on to the costumes themselves.
It was here that her sense of romance and drama was
enriched by her love of ballet and the Commedia dell’Arte
characters. She took up scene-painting with Vladimir
Polunin, who in 1935 invited her back to the Slade, where
he was also teaching stage design. He had been Diaghilev’s
scene-painter and introduced her to the work of avant-garde
artists such as Picasso and Derain. “This had a great effect
on my painting and I felt ready for these new influences.”
Nancy recalls a happy and lively atmosphere at Polunin’s Slade class, where she made many
of her lifelong artist friends. Yet she felt she had to make a deliberate decision to concentrate
on her own painting. Up to the outbreak of the second world war she made frequent
painting trips to the Continent, with Slade friends such as Rosemary Allan, Aelred Bartlett,
Elizabeth Steven and Anthony Baynes. The South of France, for example St. Remy, wasa favourite destination, while Venice exercised a special fascination.
The war years are represented by ‘Soho’, the nocturnal street scene illuminated by snow and
dim lights, and VE Night was celebrated in a large painting now at Manchester City Art
Gallery. The post-war years were perhaps her most productive. She developed the habit of
painting outdoors on small panels, and working these up into larger compositions. Examples
of these are the paintings done on the Thames at Hampton, while by contrast she revived
her love of the romantic and otherworldly in ‘Orpheus’, which is imbued with a wonderful
copper hue. She built on her admiration for Cézanne and Degas, as well as ‘old masters’ such
as Titian, Claude, Poussin and Goya.
It could be said that ‘The Stage’, populated by actors, was a metaphor for many of Nancy’s
compositions throughout her life. Almost all her paintings contained people or animals
presenting an incident, story, or way of life. Nancy’s stage set could be anywhere from
Hampton on the Thames to Lake Chapala in Mexico, but it was Venice that she kept
Nancy had known for some years her future husband Richard Carline, who had beena War Artist in 1918-19. He adopted ‘modern’ ideas in painting and was a close friend of
Stanley Spencer. Nancy and Richard together enhanced each other’s already wide knowledge
and shared a keen critical judgement of art past and present. She celebrated taking up life
with the Carlines in ‘Supper on the Terrace’ (painted 1946, now in the Tate; a sketch for itis in this exhibition). In the painting she depicts Richard, his mother Anne, and his sister
Hilda the former wife of Stanley Spencer,and herself looking on from the background.In the
1950s she and Richard resumed long painting trips abroad, for example to Greece in 1960,
and to Mexico in the 1960s and 1970s. Arid landscapes with strong warm light attracted her,
but she felt at home in green pastoral scenery, which she enjoyed particularly when stayingin Gloucestershire with Rosemary Allan (who had married Allan Gwynne-Jones).
Late in life the early fascination with mythology and history, her experience at Sadler’s Wells,
together with a keen interest throughout her life in music,poetry and literature,fused together
in a late flowering of her painting. Examples are carnival scenes, peopled with harlequins and
cherubic figures, and notably a scene from Mozart’s Figaro. Representations of reality took
on a dreamlike significance, merging her memories of place with sets from theatre or ballet,
and heroic characters from her own earlier experience.
Nancy’s paintings contain a current of understated emotion. Many have noted their poetic
quality; she invested in them a wealth of personal feeling which she expressed pictorially
rather than verbally. You sense her quiet presence in the scene, whether implied or in person
as in the Soho painting, or maybe in the person of a figure she places in the composition –
be it a Mexican village road, a windswept bay in Wales, or the evening light at Portland.