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On the Map, 1937

William Coldstream

Oil paint on canvas | 50.8 x 50.8 cm | Tate: Purchased 1980
© Tate, London 2017 © Trustees of the Sir William Coldstream Will Trust/Bridgeman Images 


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Coldstream trained at the Slade School of Fine Arts in London in the 1920s. The art school, where he later worked as a teacher, was also attended by other artists whose work is on display in this exhibition, such as Michael Andrews, Paula Rego and Euan Uglow. Coldstream painted from life and a large amount of his perfectionist work was based on detailed observation of the location, using what was visible as his source of inspiration. 


Coldstream worked slowly and methodically, prioritizing proportions. His usual themes included female nudes, portraits and, in particular, landscapes such as this one, in which he has painted his fellow-artist Graham Bell holding a map, and his friend Igor Anrep sitting on the ground. The scene is viewed from behind, and shows the countryside and the two absorbed figures in front of the artist. This idea was inspired by Degas’ magical “toilette” scenes, which Coldstream has applied here to landscape.


The sitters Coldstream painted here convey an intent emotivity and their personality and engagement with their surroundings is apparent. The artist has portrayed their fragility and their fleeting human condition.