Prompted by JamesRoyMoore’s post on his favourite painting, I’ve spent some time musing on what mine might be. A tricky one this – as like albums, a choice can vary from day to day,or even minute to minute depending on a whole range of factors = reliability of memory being just one. As JRM suggests, a favourite piece of art should repay many visits to it with questions, with detail previously unnoticed, the eye must travel as well as the mind.
Well, after some thought – I have a candidate (at this precise moment, ask me tomorrow and it may change but I doubt it). Surprising perhaps that a work just 41 x 76 mm could repay any number of viewings, but this one, I think does. It is, The Chamber Idyll, a wood-engraving by Edward Calvert, from 1831.
It can be seen in Tate Britain, overshadowed perhaps by the larger works by more famous artists, but this little gem just glows. The sheer level of skill is I believe unsurpassed in the form, the detail is exquisite, and the sensuousness of the subject matter is executed with the most wonderful stippling technique.
The subject matter is typical Calvert, along with other Blake acolytes, he dwells in a rural England untouched by industrialisation, this is almost a prelapsarian landscape, where all is in harmony. The image is framed by massive timbers, ancient and sturdy, reaping implements and whaet sheaves adord one of the posts, whilst apples and fruit tumble from baskets and under the bed, so prolofic has been the harvest. A starry sky is visible on the right illuminating sheep and cattle safely gathered in whilst the silhouette of a plough on the horizon tells of toil tomorrow, as the two young people, or Adam and Eve retire to bed. JUst look at the way the swags around the bed have been treated with the engraver’s burin, delicate folds of cloth rape themselves sensuously across a beam and the foot of the bed. Best of all though is the way Calvert creates a hazy transparency in “Eve’s” descending clothing, pulled gently by “Adam’s” left hand. And look at her hair! Beautiful.
Staggering to think Calvert had only been printmaking for four years when he made this, and that he gave it up soon after. Maybe he knew this just couldn’t be bettered.
Indeed, I don’t think it has.
N.B. Calvert wasn’t working in isolation of course, along with Samuel Palmer (another favourite) he was an acolyte of William Blake. Perhaps more on these in a later post.