Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 121: ‘Sylvia, Chantal, Ishbel & Felicity’

Two of the most striking ;paintings on display in London now are by women firmly seizing the traditional male territory of the female nude.

Two Pregnant Women 2004
Ishbel Myerscough’s ‘Two Pregnant Women’, 2004 – of her with Chantal Joffe

Two of the most striking paintings on display in London now are by women firmly seizing the traditional male territory of the female nude. Sylvia Sleigh’s painting from 1972, is something of an anomaly in Sadie Coles’ summer survey of otherwise recent painting (to 15 Aug), but its hyper-intensification of Matisse’s pattern and flatten approach to the odalisque rather blows away the competition. The Welsh-born Sleigh (1916-2010) moved to New york in 1961. She’s better known for her male nudes – often in poses from famous paintings of female nudes – but has remained slightly below the radar compared with, say, Alice Neel. As a solo show at Tate Liverpool in 2013 indicated, her stock is rising, and that will surely continue. The NPG’s small exhibitions are often good, and rooms 41-41a currently combine the unflinching focus of Ishbel Myerscough’s precise delineations with the enlivening awkwardness of Chantal Joffe’s more casually-styled depictions of each other, themselves and their daughters – cue uninhibited nakedness (up to ten feet high) and heavy pregnancy (much smaller). They shared models, friends and a studio – though not painting speeds – as students in Glasgow, and these warm ‘Friendship Portraits’ track them across the following 25 years.

Sylvia Sleigh, Felicity Rainnie Reclining, 1972

Sylvia Sleigh, ‘Felicity Rainnie Reclining’, 1972

Most days art Critic Paul Carey-Kent spends hours on the train, traveling between his home in Southampton and his day job in London. Could he, we asked, jot down whatever came into his head?

About Paul Carey-Kent

Art critic and curator, based near Southampton. I write most regularly for Art Monthly, Frieze, Elephant, State, Photomonitor... and, of course, FAD.