This week I’m going to talk a little bit about Albert Moore, specifically with reference to the 3 pictures above. Moore is one of my favourite painters but there is very little literature out there about him, the honourable exception being Robyn Asleson’s excellent monograph from 2000.
Moore was a painter from the Victorian era and, at first glance, a typical example (in the Frederic Leighton, Lawrence Alma-Tadema mould), painting scantily clad women in classical settings. Delve deeper and we can see that it’s not that simple. The women are not being painted purely for titillation purposes, but almost just as forms to place on a canvas for composition purposes, while the “classical” settings are minimal (walls, floors and benches mainly) that could come from almost anywhere and from any time.
This differentiation from the Victorian norm applied to Moore at a personal level too. In an era of larger than life characters like Oscar Wilde, James McNeill Whistler and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Moore was considered introverted and reclusive. When Rossetti met Moore, he commented afterwards “Dull dogs are best avoided” (!) and, indeed, avoided him thereafter. Whistler, on the other hand, became a good friend of Moore’s and Moore even testified for Whistler in the famous “Whistler v Ruskin” trial. Moore also had a secret mistress, who called his “wife” but never married, the scandal of which got him barred from being elected to the Royal Academy. So he was not quite as dull as Rossetti made out.
Nevertheless, there was clearly an element of proto-geek obsessiveness in his character, as we can see from his artistic output. He spent the years from 1864 until his death in 1893 painting variations on women draped in in classical type gowns, in similar poses, in relatively anonymous surroundings, all with extremely decorative elements and, essentially, all being pure exercises in colour variations. Decades spent in colour experiments, attempting to perfect the, perhaps limited, vision in his mind tell us something about his nature. The fact that these paintings are spectacularly decorative and beautiful, tells us something else.
The three pictures I’ve selected for this week’s blog – Beads, A Sofa and Apples – all from 1875, are perfect examples of these colour experiments. They show exactly the same scene and figures, but are painted in different colour variations. Further similar examples, but over a much longer period, can be seen in the many, many paintings of single figures of women, with monosyllabic titles, Azaleas (1868), Shuttlecock (1870), Seagulls (1870-71) etc. etc. The figures all have slightly different poses, but the point of the pictures is the colour experimentation / variation, rather than the change in pose.
This repetitive, duplicating painting practise, of similar pictures but with colour variation, brings to mind many later, more famous and Modern artists. Monet’s cathedrals are an obvious point of comparison, perhaps Rothko’s Seagram murals and much of Warhol’s output, with the Marilyn series resonating particularly. I don’t think anyone would say Moore overly influenced these artists, but I believe he must be viewed as an important precursor to them. He is an early exponent of the focus on form, rather than subject and, as such, is a very interesting, very modern artist, not simply a typical Victorian painter.