Barbara Gilligan (1913 -1995) by Joan Warburton 1940

Following my blog about Pog, with a drawing of a bull-terrier pup by Joan Warburton c.1940, a reader has very kindly sent me this image, a contemporary portrait by Warburton, initialled and dated 1940.

SC Warburton Portrait of Barbara Gilligan

(c) Estate of Joan Warburton/Private Collection

She also noted that the framing is very similar to that in our drawing, an excellent detail because it suggests that the frame was chosen by the artist as part of her conception of the work.

My reader identifies the sitter as Barbara Gilligan (1913 – 1995), who studied at the Slade before joining the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing at Benton End where she was a fellow-student of Warburton’s. The school had relocated to Benton End after the original building at Dedham was damaged in a fire, started, it was said, by Lucien Freud. Warburton’s 1939 painting of the aftermath is in Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich. (Called ‘Benton End’ but surely Dedham?)


(c) Estate of Joan Warburton/ image (c) Bridgeman Art Library

Gilligan married the painter and fellow student David Carr (1913 – 1968) in 1942, both painted here c.1940 by Sir Cedric Morris, who founded with school with Arthur Lett-Haines.

David and Barbara Carr c.1940 by Sir Cedric Morris, Bt 1889-1982

(c) Tate Britain

Gilligan had solo shows in London and Paris as well her native East Anglia, but her work is less well-known than her husband’s surrealised paintings of industrial work, where men become one with their machines, unfairly it seems. This may be because her few known works today are small-scale portraits of domestic genre whose ambience and figure drawing have a flavour of the 1830s, rather than the industrial future. The painting with 108 Fine Art, signed and dated verso 1947, and titled by the artist David Carr with his two children Patrick and John shows a profound grasp of light and volume of space, and a mastery of still-life effects, like the patina of wood, the deep shine in the blue and white china bowl, and the hang of the old embroidered bell-pull. The painting’s current title, A Cup of Tea for Mother brings Gilligan herself back into the picture, but it’s interesting that her own title does not mention her.


(c) The Estate of Barbara Carr/ image (c) 108 Fine Art

I was recently shown an image of hazy winter morning by Gilligan that reveals her as a considerable landscapist. Broad snowy fields bounded by woods to one side lead up to a house on a hill beneath a watery, red-rimmed sun. It’s a beautiful painting, with instant presence, a landscape that’s like a memory, and – my test for a good landscape – you can imagine walking into. And most impressively, the physical sense of place is conjured so sparingly. The details, the stark foreground trees and the soft distant woods – Gilligan draws trees beautifully  – the hummocks in the field, the walls and fences, as they rise up the hill are painted in a few rapid strokes of brown and blue grey. Where the snow is in light or shade, Gilligan has painted it in broad strokes of white, grey-white, and pinky-white where it reflects the sun. For the mid-tones she has left the ivory ground showing, an effect that works especially well in the sky. Winter sky is often an un-colour, and especially difficult to paint. Gilligan’s sparing colour accents the ivory ground, and captures it exactly with a pink haze below the sun reaching behind the hilltop, and just reflecting white on a mandorla of higher swirling clouds, before a hint of steel blue higher up. A marvellous painting.

This week I’ve been transcribing the first of Charles Cadogan’s letters from his travels through Europe, Egypt and the Middle East in the 1780s. Part 1 of ‘Dear Brother’ on this blog tomorrow. Transcribing old documents is very therapeutic, and, as I will be publishing them as I do them, rather exciting because I don’t know how the story ends either.

This has been without doubt the most extraordinary week in the most extraordinary time that most of us have ever lived through. But I will wait to see what happens next week. I feel like a diarist of 1642, writing Heaven preserve us in these tymes as late summer turns to autumn, the harvest is in, and the Trained Bands are drumming in the street.


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