The painter Sheila Girling has died aged 90, on 14 February, her family has confirmed. The artist was known for her richly coloured compositions treading the line between figuration and abstraction, and has often been acknowledged for her influence on the work of her husband, the sculptor Anthony Caro, in what the couple themselves had described as a “64-year conversation about art”. The artist was born in Birmingham, UK, where she studied, before continuing her education at the Royal Academy Schools. It was there that Girling met Caro, whom she married in 1949, and the two were together until Caro’s death in 2013.
The artist nobly dedicated herself to bringing up their family while Caro’s career took flight in the 60s. But the talented artist later returned to exhibiting, showing with Acquavella Galleries in New York and the Francis Graham-Dixon Gallery in London in the 80s and 90s.
Girling and her acclaimed artist husband both worked from a studio complex in Camden, London,often having a lively to-and-fro about each other’s work. With Caro commenting toward the end of his life that: “She’s always been very close to my art and its colour”.
Beyond a Dream, 1992, by Sheila Girling. Photograph: Bolton and Quinn
Girling’s pictures are renowned for the brilliance, rich colours, and intense hues, and it was she who often chose the colours in Caro’s sculptures, including his steel and aluminium compositions of the 60s and even the artist final works in Perspex.
“Tony was into form. And he really didn’t care what colour a form took.” stated Girling, but fortunately for us her artistic interventions resulted in Girling turning the initial colour of Caro’s seminal work ‘Early One Morning’ (1962), from a rather bland green, into the now famous vivid red, and with that choice the history of postwar British art was formed; strengthening the old adage that behind every successful man stands a woman, not to mention a highly talented an perceptive artist in her own right.
It was also Girling who encouraged Caro to keep ‘Twenty Four Hours’, 1960, considered the sculptor’s breakthrough work, in its raw state. “I started it and Sheila came out and said, ‘Leave it—it’s there’. I didn’t think it was there, but it stayed like that,” Caro recalled.
A retrospective of her work is due to open on 10 September 2015 at Annely Juda Fine Art in London.
She is survived by Tim and Paul, and by three grandchildren, Barnabas, Benjamin and Emma.
Sheila Girling, painter, 1924 – 2015.
Photo: Courtesy Annely Juda Gallery