Saint-Sauveur Cathedral Portal, Aix-en-Provence

Alkyd on Canvas,
214 cm 153 cm (7' x 5')

In progress

There are four watercolour studies for this expansive painting: two portray the whole subject (Saint-Sauveur Cathedral Portal I and Saint-Sauveur Cathedral Portal II), and two portray a small figure from the bottom of the arch (Saint Peter I and Saint Peter II). Tonally, the oil painting is mediates between the extremes of warmth and coolness captured in the two sets of studies. The artist began the composition by painting the deep shadows cast by the sculpture; the technique is almost minimalist, but it accurately conveys the effect of viewing the archway in the harsh mid-day light of southern France. Note the contrast between the finely articulated sculpture towards the bottom and the increasingly indistinct forms toward the top. This contrast partly reproduces the effect of the light, but it additionally comments on the original function of the portal: by giving form to angels and pictorially representing the ascent to heaven, the archway like the painting is an attempt to portray the ineffable.

Like the artist’s other works from the South of France, this painting explores the fundamental ideas of Cubism as formulated by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906); Cézanne was born in Aix, and undoubtedly passed through this portal routinely during his life. Nevertheless, the ideas behind Saint-Sauveur Cathedral Portal are akin to those of Tolmie’s Window Series. The medieval sculptors who made the portal developed a visual language for defining a community through artificial representations of living beings; the shop-window mannequins in Tolmie’s window paintings are a modern counterpart of this language.

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