Sunday, 22 May 2016
To Tangier with Ethel Kirkpatrick
Some months ago a reader sent me this new image of Ethel Kirkpatrick's The orange seller. I had only seen it in a catalogue before and was very glad of the opportunity to make yet another claim for Modern Printmakers' to have the final word on Kirkpatrick. That aside, I think it also goes some way to give more of an idea of her range. I have no absolute proof but I think she was showing here a part of the casbah at Tangier. The orange seller's clothes are right for the period (by about 1910) while the palm leaf baskets behind him are typical of Morocco.
Anyway, here she is, far from the dull skies over London or the limpid dawn over the Venice lagoon. For a change she tackles the stunning light of Tangier. Not everybody has taken to it; Francis Bacon complained. Others adopted an orange-seller to give their image local colour, all the time moaning about the white walls. Kirkpatrick turned that to her advantage and let the astonishing light from the sea speak for itself. Just look at the way it bounces off the building beyond those signature mauve shadows. Fifty years or so later, the British playwright. Joe Orton, noticed the same kind of light. 'The town lay spread beneath us, and the bay and the mountains in the distance, a soft almost purple light covered the whole scene.' And while it would be easy to mock Orton for seeing Tangier through a Hendrix haze, he went on to describe the way life was enhanced by the light as if one were living in a painting by someone French and famous. (He was more than a touch naïve.)
Eugene Delacroix was French and very famous and found Tangier brimming with subject matter. Before I had saw anything from his Journal, I was struck by the way fifty-year old men digging a hole in the street in the old town had the dignified faces of Masaccio saints. Delacroix went one better, and I know exactly what he meant when he said, 'The Greeks and Romans are here at my door, in the Arabs who wrap themselves in a white blanket and look like Cato or Brutus... ' I think Kirkpatrick might have noticed something similar, judging by her orange-seller, and even if she didn't, here we have another version of the Latin Quarter, done with that searching sensitivity she always brought to her work.
I have added Ada Collier's Sweet market, Tangier (courtesy of William P Carl Fine Prints) and Mary Macrae White's intrepid view of Fez, in case anyone missed them the first time around.