Bridget Riley (born 1931) is one of the leading artists of her generation. She rose to prominence in London in the 1960s with her bold vision for a new language of painting based upon repeated geometric forms.
Although Riley’s work is often thought to epitomise a new spirit in painting, which was born of the liberating years of the 1960s, her practice is deeply rooted in the art of the past. One of the most abiding and important influences upon Riley’s art is the work of the French Post-Impressionist Georges Seurat (1859-91). This special display explores Riley’s early seminal encounter with a single painting by Seurat that has profoundly shaped her artistic development.
In 1959 Riley painted a copy of Seurat’s Bridge at Courbevoie (1887), one of the highlights of The Courtauld Gallery’s collection. It proved to be a breakthrough moment for the artist by offering her a new understanding of colour and perception. The lessons that Riley learned from Seurat emboldened her to strike out into the realm of pure abstraction. Over the following few years she produced the first major abstract paintings which brought the artist to great international renown.
This focused exhibition curated by Dr. Barnaby Wright, Daniel Katz Curator of 20th Century Art, explores this breakthrough period by bringing Riley’s version of Bridge at Courbevoie together with the original for the first time. It will chart how, in the early 1960s, she moved on to produce her own pointillist paintings, such as Pink Landscape (1960), before making the extraordinary leap into pure abstraction with black and white canvases, such as Tremor (1962). This artistic exploration culminated with the creation of Riley’s now famous stripe paintings, including Late Morning 1 (1967) that powerfully demonstrates how she extended and transformed Seurat’s example into her own artistic language. Just as Seurat’s dots of pure colour were a radical intervention within the art world of the 1880s, so Riley’s coloured stripes have redefined abstract art since the 1960s.
The display will also include examples of the artist’s recent paintings that continue her exploration of colour and perception that began with Bridge at Courbevoie. Riley has returned to Seurat’s example throughout her career, especially in the way that he creates light in his canvases. These paintings, such as Ecclesia (1985), remind us that looking at Seurat continued to offer Riley fresh creative perspectives at pivotal points throughout her artistic development.
Bridget Riley: Learning from Seurat will be an opportunity to follow the early artistic journey of one this country’s greatest living artists. It will also allow us to look at Seurat afresh, through Riley’s eyes. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated publication incorporating writings by Riley herself, published by The Courtauld Gallery and Ridinghouse in September 2015.
Ernst Vegelin, Head of The Courtauld Gallery, says: “It is a privilege to present this illuminating focused exhibition of works by Bridget Riley, one of our most important living artists. It is thrilling to be able to celebrate her profound connection to Seurat’s Bridge at Courbevoie, one of the highlights of The Courtauld Gallery’s collection.” The exhibition has been made possible by the generosity of the Bridget Riley Exhibition Supporters Circle and Olivier and Desiree Berggruen.
BRIDGET RILEY: LEARNING FROM SEURAT – Courtauld Gallery – 17 September 2015 to 17 January 2016