Mary Gartside c.1755-1819 Abstract Visions of Colour
by Alexandra Loske
Paul Holberton, 2024
56 pages, 36 colour illustrations. Hardback. 22.6x17cms.
First study on the work of Mary Gartside, an English artist, teacher and botanist whose innovative approach to the illustration of colour theory was largely overlooked until the emergence of abstract art in the mid-twentieth century.
A contemporary of Angelica Kauffmann and Mary Moser, Gartside was an English flower painter, teacher, self-taught botanist and an ambitious colour theorist. Although very little is known about her life, she published three painters’ manuals between 1805 and 1808, in which, under the guise of presenting technical instructions for ladies interested in the ‘polite art’ of painting in watercolour, she engaged with the scientific colour theory that was preoccupying intellectuals like Goethe and Moses Harris at the time.
This volume builds a picture of Gartside’s cultural circles and inspirations, highlighting her originality in the context of early nineteenth-century art writing. The departure point is Gartside’s Essay on Light and Shade, published in London in 1805. The Essay was the first of her works to include eight amorphous, abstract colour ‘blots’, intended to demonstrate her ideas about pictorial composition, chromatic harmony and contrast. Freely painted rather than printed, the blots make each copy of the book unique, standing as individual works of art in their own right. When a copy dedicated to one of her patrons, Thomas Barrow, appeared on the market in 2023, colour historian Alexandra Loske took the opportunity to discuss and reframe Gartside’s blots as sophisticated early examples of abstract art.
Gartside is now considered the first woman in Western culture to have published an illustrated treatise on colour theory.
Dr Alexandra Loske is an art historian, writer and museum curator with a particular interest in late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century European art, architecture and print culture. She is the Curator of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, UK.
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