Spring and the Student, 1974/1975
Norman Blamey RA (1914 - 2000)
RA Collection: Art
The sitter in this work is the artist’s son, Stephen. At the time he was a postgraduate student studying maths and philosophy. The book in his hand is Mathematical Logic and Hilbert’s E-Symbol, a 1969 volume by A.C. Leisenring. Stephen appears transfixed by his reading, conveying his studious nature and intellectual abilities – in later life, he went on to become a philosopher and logician. The artist Norman Blamey was also fascinated by mathematics and took care to render his pictures with exquisite geometrical accuracy. The steep perspective and finely painted architecture testify to Blamey’s integration of maths in his art.
Stephen is sitting in his bedroom at their family home in West Hampstead, London. The painting was made largely from life. However, due to Stephen’s absence during term-time, his father had to make several sketches to allow him to continue working on the painting when Stephen was away at university. The imposing red brick building in the background was at the time a non-conformist college of the University of London, now used by the Open University. This connection reinforces the centrality of education and studentship to the painting.
The realism of the painting is characteristic of Blamey’s artistic output. He was mainly known as a portraitist and was greatly influenced by 15th-century Flemish art and the 20th-century British artist Stanley Spencer. This artwork reflects both these influences – the quiet domestic moment chimes with the subject matter of Flemish genre paintings, and the patchwork of colour giving form to the sitter and his clothes evokes Spencer’s portraits of friends and family. This painting was made in the middle of Blamey’s career; in the later years of his artistic production, he painted his sitters with increasing meticulousness, losing the slight modernist stylisation displayed here. During this later period, Blamey produced numerous commissions of senior university officials, with many of his works today adorning the halls of Oxford colleges.
Blamey was an introverted character, and his paintings often captured still moments of contemplation. Alongside snapshots of quiet family life, he painted church rituals, depicting the serenity of liturgical practice. He was a deeply religious man and was a lifelong worshipper at St Pancras Old Church, near King’s Cross.
1680 mm x 1385 mm
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