The current exhibition at the Penlee Gallery in Penzance is one half of the “Utmost Fidelity” exhibition featuring the works of Marianne and Adrian Stokes (the works of Marianne are at Penlee, while those of Adrian are in Truro). The Austrian-born painter, Marianne (1855-1927) painted largely figurative and still-life subjects, unlike her husband with his marked preference for landscapes. This exhibition gives the opportunity to see her works together, which is unusual and worth-while.
The couple lived in St Ives for some of their working lives, and the exhibition included some local colour, such as The Net Mender, which depicts a peaceful interior with a woman mending nets. Above her, on the wall, is a cross, so that the image implies that her head is bowed before the cross as well as over her work, and of course highlighting the dual meaning, of “fishers of men”. It is this kind of carefully-lit interior which Stokes does so well – it’s delicate, with perfectly-done lighting, though the source of the light is unseen.
One of my favourite paintings here was The Passing Train (left), with its allusion to contemporary life (unusual for Stokes) – yet it is a sidewise allusion; after all, we do not see the train, only its effects (the smoke). The effect is to cause the viewer to question how such modern developments impinged on rural life; the shock on the girl’s face is apparent as she watches the train out of the viewer’s sight.
Though some of the paintings, such as Childhood Treasures (children and puppies) were just too saccharine for me, others, such as A Capri Witch are genuinely enchanting, the figures’ expression and compelling eyes drawing the viewer in immediately. Probably her most famous painting, Madonna and Child (right), depicts both the Virgin Mary and her child with a fixed and unemotional gaze which calmly looks through the viewer – a picture of patience and resignation, with beautiful gold designs of aliums and thorns in the background, interlacing with her halo. The detailed yet almost naive style makes this easily the best of her many Madonna and child paintings; the others, while often similar in composition and pose, are excesively stylised and self-conscious.
The exhibition, though small, has several paintings which make it well worth a visit if you’re in Cornwall. There is more information about Marianne Stokes and her work at the ArtMagick site.