White Chrysanthemums and Red Berries
Oil on canvas, inscribed 'Albert Moore' verso
17 x 10 inches
Possibly Mrs N Ellerie;
Dr Theo Eng, gifted to him by his uncle, who was a friend of Mrs Ellerie
Robyn Asleson, Albert Moore, London, 2000, p 168
This study of white chrysanthemums and red berries is one of very few still lifes by Moore that has survived. It probably dates to 1883/4 when Moore was painting Red Berries, in which almost this exact composition appears before a single reclining female figure, reading. When exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1884, Red Berries was commended for its harmony of colour and texture. Our still life is the focal point of it, with bursts of red rising up and breaking through the grey-green tones of their surroundings, and it is likely that our painting directly inspired the larger picture in terms of colour and pattern. Red Berries juxtaposes ‘vases of chrysanthemums against stylised textile renderings of the flowers, [allowing] the shape of the vase to reverberate in the curved hip of the reclining woman and the Japanese wave pattern on the wall’ (Robyn Asleson, Albert Moore, p 168). The vivid and detailed patterns in the large exhibited painting are merely suggested in our painting, with only the flowers in sharp focus.
Albert Moore was ‘the most radical exponent of English Aestheticism, a passionate and audacious crusader for abstract beauty who anticipated the aesthetic concerns of 20th century Modernism’, wrote his biographer, Robyn Asleson. He painted some of the most celebrated icons of Victorian art, and yet he was an intensely private man, admired as much by the public as by other artists (particularly Whistler, whose Ten O’Clock Lecture was modelled directly on Moore).
Asleson noted that in oil sketches such as this, or his Vase of Dahlias — a still life from about the same date, which the artist gave to Leighton — Moore ‘allowed himself a spontaneity and freedom that he refined away from more purposeful work’ (p 150). In our painting, as in most of his pictures, the lighting is almost shadow-less; Moore’s studio was fitted with skylights and lit by east-facing windows, rather than north-facing as was the norm. According to Godwin — the architect who designed Whistler’s studio in 1877 after a visit to Moore’s — octagonal walls ensured that reflections were kept to a minimum, while muslin curtains further diffused the light. Moore’s first biographer (and pupil) A L Baldry recalled that the artist based his colour arrangements on ‘flowers, feathers, shells, and suchlike things, which nature had decorated with inspiring harmonies’, and that ‘he never failed to place prominently in his studio bowls of bright coloured flowers, most delicately combined and arranged’. The broken head of a chrysanthemum in the lower left serves virtually as his signature, which typically was an anthemion device in floral design.