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Peter Nuttall (1942 – 2011)

Woman Asleep, 1967
Ink and watercolour on paper

Peter Nuttall

Portraits: What you lookin' at?

The title of this piece Woman Asleep deliberately makes the identity of the sitter ambiguous and pushes us to consider her relationship to the artist: for someone he has studied so closely, she is given a fairly generic description. Despite this initial ambiguity, Nuttall’s simplistic portrait immediately feels personal and creates an impression of serenity and relaxation. The woman covers the majority of the composition, entering the frame from the left with her head resting on her arm as it seems to sink into the pillow or cushioned surface underneath. She is depicted with an honesty that suggests a level of comfortability between herself and the artist. The woman is not idealised or painted with much attention to her physicality, but rather Nuttall focuses on creating an atmosphere around her than is reflective of her calm. His choice of materials is important in creating an impression of tranquillity and echoes the serenity of the sleeping woman. A combination of a muted and earthy colour palette, soft facial features are expressive of the peaceful mood and the blurring of ink and watercolour over the lines of the hair and arm are calming to follow as they seep into each other. I think I like this piece because it does not try to visually overcomplicate the woman asleep; the portrait is stripped back and unrefined and ultimately soothing to look at. The sense of honesty is enhanced by the closed eyes; whereas portraiture is often a way of presenting oneself as you would like to be seen, this woman doesn’t even seem aware she is being seen in the first place. 

Entry written by Claudia Warren, History of Art Placement 

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