(c) Charles Blackman/Copyright Agency, 2022
This forceful image, which transforms the intangible emotional world into a dreamlike reality, is an iconic and classical image. It is both a unique and extraordinary painting because it bridges the different eras of Blackman's oeuvre, marking a transition and laying the foundation for the Alice in Wonderland series.
Barbara at the Table c1956 belongs to Blackman's tender psychological portraits, inspired by his inner world, and prompted by his wife Barbara who was then living with diminished sight. Other significant works such as Barbara and Auguste 1957 were painted by the artist during this period, when Blackman’s family and domestic euphoria expanded the boundaries of his compositions. These works are deliberately contemplative and composed with a forceful sensitivity to the human condition.
Eyes are the mirror of the soul, but in Barbara at the Table the eyes are closed and the pose introspective. Barbara sits at a table, amidst the intensity and the illusion of disappearing objects. The flower she tenderly holds, more delicate than love itself, is transparent, thus ephemeral. The chair, the personification of stability, is both there and not there. Blackman's celebrated images of Golden Alice and The Mad Hatter's Tea Party are only a brushstroke away. The limited palette and deliberate choice of colours is due to a scarcity of materials, but Blackman manages this with aplomb. His favourite Prussian blue and intense cadmium red dominate the image and Blackman applies these in their pure state. The subtle transitions are created by paint application rather than colour mixtures. Pictorial references to the Gothic primitives are reflected in combining colour, inverse perspective, and mathematical harmony. Barbara at the Table addresses the inexpressible and the intangible. It is a forceful image that continues to draw the viewer into a strange and wonderful world, each time with increasing strength.
Christabel is a senior fine art conservator, specialising in easel paintings. She also works as a photographer, writer, artist and illustrator. Born in 1959, she is the daughter of the artist Charles Blackman and his first wife Barbara.