Avoiding Violet

In order to obey the household rule regarding the purchase of small paintings (no more it is decreed), I’ve been on the look out for larger Victorian paintings. These are few and far between.  What’s more I’ve discovered that we have come to expect older paintings to be small.

This caught me off guard at a Dunbar Sloane sale the other day. There was a catalogued work called The Hours which I assumed to be a small panel work 84mm by 216mm – a student copy of a work by the early 19th century French painter Marie Louise Elisabeth Le Brun. Arriving too late to the sale to get to the viewing, and not really prioritizing dancing cherub paintings in the moment I did have, I was caught off guard when they auctioneer declared the work too large to lift and offered only a corner of the work to view.

It was an enormous 840cm and 216cm work in a dark wooden frame – essentially great décor.  I waivered, not knowing its condition and the work sold for tuppence to someone else.  I’m not too concerned. I’m not looking simply for old painting by the metre but for something that is ‘us’ and dancing cherubs are probably a step too far.

Joseph Gaut, Dunedin Harbour at Sunrise (1890)

The next day of the sale offered up another opportunity – this time one we’d had time to consider. We had spied a Joseph Gaut, Dunedin Harbour at Sunrise (1890), when it was offered in their major art sale some months back. Now I like ship paintings – I like them a lot, and nicely framed and of some size this had some appeal. There were quirky aspects to the works – problems of scale and a bow-on end view of a ship is never easy to achieve but the painting had charm. The one thing that held me back was the violet, mauve lavender, colouring.

A still morning on Otago harbor is a very lovely thing and has attracted many a painter and I get what Gaut was trying to achieve here. It’s a particular early morning state of light that sits somewhere in the violet spectrum and is a very beautiful thing to encounter first hand. However, when applied to the realms of clothing or décor, mauve is a strange strength-sapping colour.  Peter saw the whole thing as impressionist and romantic – I saw the whole thing as mauve and so we rejected the work as problematic.

What we didn’t know was that Dunbar Sloane had a plan to further ensnare us.

When the painting hadn’t sold they had bumped it out of their ‘important paintings’ sale and into an ‘affordable art’ sale – basically offering the Gaut at a new bargain basement price that was too tempting to ignore. We discussed it again. I bid. Now we have a large Joseph Gaut.  It is still however mauve.

As yet the painting isn’t here but at 83cm x 152 cm it is going to have some impact on the Studio in which it will hang. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the Studio has born the brunt of our renovations and been stacked high with our worldly goods for too long. It is now returning to normal – down from three dining tables to one again – and we need to think about a more coordinated look for the room.

The Studio is the most impressive and unexpected room in the house and certainly the most fun when it comes to decorating perhaps because no one else has one and therefore there are no expectations. The walls are blue – original 1906 blue – and it has to be said with a little violet in the mix. The curtains are red on one side of the room and blue at the end. So perhaps a mauve painting might work?


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