Portrait of Nigel Whiteley Phd F.R.S.A.
with the Green Line
written by Denis Taylor.
the story of how an Art Historian, writer and Art Professor,
came face to face with one of his favourite Matisse paintings
This is a story about a painting, a painter and a friend that was my privilege to have known. The painting is the Green Line by Matisse (1905), the painter is myself and the good Friend was an Art Historian, a writer and a renown lecturer Professor Nigel Whiteley.
The story begins in 1998 when I was commissioned to curate an exhibition for the Swedish Governments Estonian Trust Fund and the International Support Group (DIS) Sweden. It was a challenging commission, and for me as an artist it became a love of labour that spanned over four years. From the very beginning I realised I would need quality back-up support which took the form of a number of fellow artists. One of the most important of those was a fellow that I had known ‘remotely’ for many years. His writing for the Art Review was always a ‘must-read’ with each issue published for me. The writer was Nigel Whiteley, who was also a Professor of Art at Lancaster University and headed up the Art Department. He was also an accomplished author who had a number of books behind him when I first met him in person in the winter of 1998. (i.e. Pop Design – Modernism to Mod-Pop Theory and Design 1952 -1972. and Design For Society- 1994 ). (note i.)
Our first meeting was in Manchester in an Art Cafe. From the onset we were totally in tune with each others viewpoint on contemporary art. And how painting, as an art form, had suffered from the bias towards ‘post-modernism’ helped along by sensationalism whipped up by the media. An art philosophy, based around a solid art ethic and what we perceived as an artists need to accept responsibility for their art, would be the cornerstone on which we would construct the basis of the art which would be exhibited in the Heart 2 Art Exhibition, at Steninge Palace, Stockholm, Sweden.
The project progressed Nigel and I had a number of meeting in the UK. As spring arrived in the year 2000 it was looking as though the exhibition would be mounted by the autumn of that year (note ii.). I had arranged for the Swedish media to meet both myself and Nigel at my studios in Sweden to gain their interest and publicise the exhibition by discussing the exhibition, its aims and objectives with the journalists. The meeting went well and even the weather proved to be on our side with a beautiful blue skies and sunshine. So, drinks in the garden was a must and enabled further constructive planning for the exhibition.
At that time I was very interested in Emil Nolde’s work who had some great examples in the Statens Museum in Copenhagen, which luckily for me, was only and hour and half from my studio in Sweden. I suggested to Nigel’s that his first visit to Studio 5 should be crowned off with a visit to Copenhagen and the Museum. He was delighted. He told me about a painting by Matisse that he had been in admiration for many decades, but had never had the opportunity to see the real thing. For Nigel this was more than a great painting by the French master – it represented something far more profound for contemporary art of the 20th century.
Nigel admired ‘the Green Line’ by Matisse so much that I had to ask why he believed it was so important. It’s only a small canvas (16 inches x 12.75 inches – 407mm x 324mm) but with a massive part in the progression of the art of a 20th century master. Madame Matisse- the Green Line, was painted in 1905 and it represented something of a new beginning for Matisse. His painting had been based in the more accepted art school figuration, modelled in light and dark tones before this work.
Strange painting to the audience of 1905
Although Matisse had toyed with the new thinking of pointillism, a style of image making which was more concerned with separation, analysis and the organisation of colour (originally initiated by Seurat around 1880 and carried further by Signac through to 1899). Which he experimented with in the ‘Woman with the Hat’ the painting created immediately before the Green Line. With the green line Matisse had created a work that combined tradition of formal construction with modern colour thinking but with a totally original colour scheme. One that probably looked very strange to the audience of 1905, but now is seen as an exciting figurative work that is outstanding in authenticity and application of pigments on canvas. It is probable that the ‘African Masks’ that were stirring up immense interest with other artists of the time played a part in the composition also. Picasso in particular was so inspired by the masks he repainted a canvas which became the basis for Cubism developed by himself and Georges Braque.
With that in mind I began to understand the reason why my good friend was so excited to actually stand in front of the Green Line – It’s place in Art history was huge and for Nigel with his art historian specialist knowledge the physical experience would be truly marvellous.
We travelled to Copenhagen via a ferry for the short hop from Helsingborg to Helsingør in Denmark and from there a train down the coast to the centre of Copenhagen. It wasn’t very long before we were climbing the stairs to the impressive entrance of the Danish Staten Museum. A superb building which is a mix of Greek classic architecture and modern glass and steel. At the entry point to the various galleries we made our separate way to see what we had come to see – for me it was Emil Nolde -Young Woman painting (1947) and for Nigel – Madame Matisse- the Green Line. (1905) . On meeting the the museums cafe later I recall Nigel smiling broadly when I asked him if the painting lived up to his expectation – of course, it did. After returning to my Studio back in Sweden his stay passed quickly and before long he was back at the airport and home to England.
Over the coming years we linked up many times. After the Heart 2 Art exhibition, which he attended along with almost all the the other 27 artists that were selected to exhibit, we had planned another exhibition project – Second Nature – Sadly I was diagnosed with Cancer – And despite Nigel and I meeting up numerous times we hardly got out of the initial planning stage. I recovered slowly and by 2007 things changed for the worse. Nigel was diagnosed with Leukaemia – It was a terrible shock to everyone . but typically Nigel faced up to the problem with stoic bravery and eventually succumbed – The story of Nigel and the Green Line stayed with me for many years as the outstanding moment in our friendship and our efforts to bring emotional intelligence as well as visual intelligence back to contemporary art. In part we did succeed.
The painting is now as complete, as far I can take it, as of today 10th October it is nine years since we lost Nigel to his illness, so I decided to also include in the work a small pastiche of the original Green Line – for which I make no apologies – I’m fairly sure Nigel would have smiled and probably approved of the portrait of himself with the green line and on the same canvas my transcription of the original Green Line by (one) of his favourite 20th century artists.
painting title: ‘Portrait of Nigel Whiteley Phd F.R.S.A. with a Green Line.’
painted By Denis Taylor from September 23 to October 10th 2019.
600mm x 800mm oil on canvas ©2019
note i Nigel wrote several book up to his death in 2010 all available on Amazon.
note ii – The exhibition was postponed twice due to issues surrounding the unsavoury behaviour of private journalists sensationalistic video making of the Ferry resting at the bottom of the Baltic sea.Heart 2 Art was opened Jan 11th 2002