Monday, May 24, 2021

The Great British Art Tour / ‘I thought I was going to scream with boredom and pain’

Euan Uglow’s Curled Nude 

The Great British Art Tour: ‘I thought I was going to scream with boredom and pain’

As art galleries prepare for reopening, our virtual tour exploring highlights from the UK’s public collections reaches its final week. Today’s pick: Euan Uglow’s Curled Nude on a Stool, in Hull’s Ferens Gallery

Tom Robinson

Friday 14 May 2021


woman with short hair sits on a low stool. The work’s title, Curled Nude on a Stool, pointedly describes the pose. She leans forward, body pressing on thighs. Her lowered head is in line with her knees, and hands touch feet at the floor. The figure is in profile – we see one arm, one ear and one leg. The arm hides her face.

The pose took shape when the artist asked his model to relax. The young woman, Celia Lyttelton, eased her body into the curled posture, one that she “would come to regret for many interminable and gruelling hours” during the long months she posed for the painting. “Posing for Euan was a physical endurance test,” said Lyttelton. “The sessions were about 45 minutes with a much-needed rest in between, and the hours were from nine until mid-afternoon. Some days I thought I was going to scream with boredom and pain.”

Euan Uglow (1932-2000) was a British painter best known for his carefully composed nudes in which the naturalistic tradition was combined with geometrical precision of composition. He used intricate systems of measuring and calibrating, using plumb lines and other instruments to meticulously measure the object – or body – before him. Each brushstroke, as Lyttelton said, “was the result of tireless study, aided by plumb lines, calipers, magnifying glasses and rulers.”

Art historian Sir John Rothenstein wrote of him: “He is probably the slowest of professional painters; it sometimes takes him three-quarters of an hour even to pose the model in the precise position he requires … His output is therefore exceptionally small, sometimes amounting to no more than three or four canvases a year.”

Curled Nude was bought soon after its completion in 1983, with the aid of a government grant. Ferens had been searching for the right Uglow to enrich the gallery’s growing collection of contemporary paintings of the nude form, including works by Victor Newsome, Stanley Spencer and David Hockney.

Since then it has been exhibited widely across the UK and overseas, both in the context of the School of London and 20th-century British figurative art, and more recently in retrospectives of Uglow’s career and oeuvre.


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