“This is the next painting that I wanted to show you; a work-in-progress. This portrait of Elizabeth Buxton is based upon a powerful late-Tudor work attributed to Robert Peake. Once lock down is over, my version will join its doppelgänger at Stranger’s Hall Museum in Norwich, for an exhibition of fractal reinterpretations of their collection. I have yet to check the colours against the original painting as the museum is currently closed, and there are also a series of translucent glazes to come which will add depth to the final image.
In my reinterpretation I have used a series of overlapping patterns to abstract the image. The intention was to emphasise points of focus within the original painting, such as the eyes, collar and elaborate corset. This reflects both theories of seeing and artistic theories of composition. The structure of our eyes, where cones cluster around the centre of the retina, creates a focal point to our vision where the surrounding information is given notably less clarity. In ‘The Power of The Centre,’ art historian Rudolph Arnheim also argues that compositions are based around a centre or number of centre’s of energy, which the viewer finds itself drawn to. The way these are organised guides the aesthetic and narrative qualities of an image.
Cathy Terry, Senior Curator of Social History for Norfolk Museums Service, sheds some light on the history of the tudor artwork that inspired this painting”:
Portrait of Elizabeth Buxton, 1590, attributed to Robert Peake the Elder.
By family tradition this glamorous lady is identified as Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Kemp of Gissing in Norfolk by his second wife Elizabeth, daughter of Edmund de Grey of Merton. She was baptised in Gissing in 1563 and she married John Buxton of Tibenham in 1587. The pair were well matched. The wealthy Buxton family held extensive lands across South Norfolk including Tibenham, Gissing, Rushford, Shadwell, Bunwell and Carleton.
In Tudor times only wealthy people could afford to have their portrait painted. It’s an indicator of the Buxton family’s social status and aspirations that that this lavish full-length portrait was commissioned. With its formal stylised figure in the foreground and distant landscape in the background, it is has parallels with the well-known Ditchely portrait of Queen Elizabeth I standing astride a map of Britain, by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, painted in 1591. Tudor portraits at this time placed great emphasis on the detailed portrayal of costume and Elizabeth Buxton’s bejewelled outfit with deeply pointed stomacher and fashionable cartwheel farthingale is no exception. The Tudors loved emblems and symbols and in dressing for her portrait, Elizabeth Buxton would have thought carefully about how to construct the image she wanted to convey, and chosen her ornamentation to convey particular messages. Pearls in her hair reflect her purity, and a golden B on her pendant may be a reference to loyalty to her husband. Her white-leadened face and, and pale hands indicate her gentility. Her fine ruff was made of Brussels or Italian lace and she carries a fan of ostrich feathers. The embroidery on her fashionable French farthingale features grapes and leaves intertwined with golden tendrils, possibly symbolising fertility and prosperity. Sleeves which at the time were worn separately rather than joined to the bodice, appear to be silk or velvet damask. The light satin fabric has also been embroidered all over with gold starbursts, creating a shimmering effect. She walks in a flowery garden. The distant landscape is thought to represent the banks of the river Thames, with a towerless Westminster Abbey visible on the far right, which would place the garden in Lambeth. Such landscapes are rare, and rather sadly elements of the lovely background have been lost since the painting shows signs of being cut down on all four sides from a larger canvas.
The information above is adapted from the following sources:
Family and Friends, a Regional Survey of British Portraiture by Charlotte Crawley and Andrew Moore, HMSO 1992 p. 79
National Portrait Gallery website
Supported by Arts Council England, Norfolk Arts Service and Norwich Arts Centre.
About Will Teather
Will Teather’s work has been exhibited internationally to acclaim, with recent exhibitions including New York’s RJD Gallery, Artwars at Red Dot Miami and as a finalist in the London Contemporary Art Prize. His studio is based in Norwich, where he is the Artist-in-Residence for Norwich Arts Centre, following on from previous residencies with venues in New York and Aberdeen.
Will Teather – www.willteather.com