Female wearing Black Pearls
Oil and pencil on two canvases, under-drawn with compositional lines
Signed with his anthemion device lower left; Inscribed on a label on the reverse with the artist’s name and address, Moore, 1 Holland Lane, Kensington
(25.00 inches wide)
Thomas Maclean, Haymarket, W1
Miss Enid M Vale of Wolverhampton and 13 Vicarage Gate, London, W11
Fine Art Society, London, June 1970, number 1091
Alfred Lys Baldry, Albert Moore, George Bell & Sons, London 1893, page 103, 1878 / Birds / A Study – oil - Grosvenor Gallery
Robyn Asleson, Albert Moore, Phaidon, London 2000, finished oil illustrated page 143 and mentioned on pages 140, 144-5, preparatory drawings illustrated page 46
(Possibly, London, Grosvenor Gallery, 1878)
Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, The Sacred and Profane in Symbolist Art, November 1969, number 37
Tokyo, Ishibashi Foundation, Victorian Dreamers, August 1989
Description / Expertise
With harmonious melodies of colour and symphonies of form, Albert Moore spun a dream of an ideal and universal beauty, liberated from any distraction of time or place. Moore believed an artist’s choice of subject was merely a means for placing beautiful people into beautiful situations and thus he became a pioneer of aestheticism in Britain. His work was seen by one contemporary critic as a timely protest against the vulgar naturalism, the common realism, which is applauded by the uneducated multitudes who throng our London exhibitions. Furthermore, Moore’s concerns with the sciences of colour and abstraction made him an artist before his time, anticipating the twentieth century’s fascination with abstract methodology. His most intimate friend, James McNeill Whistler, deemed him the only painter in England whom he considered great, and Oscar Wilde described his paintings as the ultimate expression of our artistic movement.
Birds was Albert Moore’s principal exhibit at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1878. Hung in close proximity to Burne-Jones’s Laus Veneris, it represented a high point in his career. After settling into a house in the fashionably artistic neighbourhood of Holland Park, he had discovered the artistic sanctuary of the Grosvenor Gallery. There his subjectless pictures were beautifully hung and entirely at home. From then on he reserved his most important works for the Grosvenor exhibitions, only sending his smaller paintings to the Academy. He had originally intended Birds for his most important patron, Frederic Leyland, who had expressed a desire to add to the three life-sized works that he already owned. Not having enough wall space, however, Leyland lost an exquisite painting and Birds was bought by the president of the Birmingham Society of Arts and mayor of Birmingham, Joseph Chamberlain.
The title, Birds, dissociates the painting from any historical context or narrative, inviting the mind to focus on the image in purely visual terms. Moore disliked assigning titles to his work and from 1865 onwards titled paintings according to objects within the composition. In the final version of Birds, harmony and beauty reign through a carefully considered, subtle and sophisticated colour composition. Albert Moore, as a disciple of Michel Eugène Chevreul, author of The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colours (1839), considered each scheme of graduated tints within his paintings an experiment in the science of colour.
The spirit of ancient Classical sculpture is ever-present in Moore’s work. Colvin described Moore as nearer in spirit to the Greeks than any other artist among us, his power of arranging and combining the lines of the human form into a visible rhythm and symmetry not less delightful than the audible rhythm and symmetry of music. Robyn Asleson believes the ghostly outline of the body beneath the drapery to be further evidence of Moore’s emulation of fifth century Greek vase paintings and the lost art of Polygnotos, although it had been long a tradition to paint the nude and subsequently to apply glazes to overlay the costume.
Fluid cascades of drapery became an artistic language in their own right within Moore’s paintings; a means of achieving a harmonic balance within the composition. Moore would toil over his canvasses for months to perfect the mesmerising rhythms and ‘arbitrary’ patterns of cloth. In Birds, pleats of fabric sweep diagonally from the model’s shoulder, skimming her naked arm and the yellow undergarment in flowing swathes. Albert Moore became increasingly interested in textile design and designed his own fabrics, inspired by inherent patterns in nature and organic designs from India, China, Japan and the Middle East. Moore enriched his appreciation of Japanese iconography by closely studying Whistler’s collection of ceramics and prints.
Albert Moore developed the meticulously orchestrated composition and colour scheme of Birds through exhaustive life studies of draped and nude models, which Robyn Asleson praises as epitomising Moore’s mature preparatory techniques and executive skill. In his studio, Moore began by studying elegant arrangements of drapery and making extensive life drawings of carefully posed models. He established the proportions and placement of his models through a complex network of grids or intersecting circles, with which he would also determine the final positioning of the drapery, architectural elements and the proportions of the canvas. During the winter of 1880, the Grosvenor Gallery held an exhibition of Moore’s working sketches and cartoons, testimony to the importance in which he held his creative process.
In this important final oil study for the exhibited painting, Moore reveals the contours of the naked body through the fabric. He may have used the practice, which he favoured, of transferring the outline of the figure to the canvas from a perfected, full-scale nude drawing using the pouncing technique. Moore then glazed the drapery over the figure with long, fluent strokes, before perfectly adjusting the profile of the head by adding a study from another canvas, the result being as beautiful and complete as any of his finished works.