Mother & Child
By Evelyn Williams

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Year
1996
Media
Drawing
Subject Matter
People
Reg. Number
P906
Size
51 x 38 cm

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This intimate piece is an unsentimental depiction of a mother and child, a subject recurrent in art history and in Evelyn's own work. The mother is shown three-quarter length and in three-quarter profile, cradling an infant on her lap. The features of mother and child are stylised and characteristic of figures in other works by Evelyn Williams, and they are dressed in plain clothes, which reflects the artist's intention to make the figures in her art universal and timeless.

Evelyn once observed that "I don't do colour", and the palette is characteristically muted: apart from the flesh tones, the major colours used are the blue-grey of the mother's gown and browns for the baby’s clothes and the mother’s hair. The background is a deep blue-black, and no background elements are visible, which keeps attention focused on the figures. The mother’s arms support the child, and she is leaning forward so that her forehead almost touches its head, while the child's gaze focuses on its interlocking fingers.

The painting is executed in water-based colour and pencil: the pencil lines are visible in the delineation of the toes of the child, for example. Evelyn worked in a variety of media throughout her life, although the first public recognition of her art was for her sculpture. After permanently damaging her back working on monumental reliefs, she concentrated on drawing and painting in her later years, so that the 'monumental and apocalyptic' tenor of her earlier work giving way to 'gentler [and] more reflective' pieces like this one.

The experience of being sent off to boarding school at the young age of 3 gave Evelyn a profound sense that “I should be somewhere else, probably at home”. As an adult, Evelyn ‘placed a tremendous value on familial love’, and she spoke of a sadness in some of her work which she traces back to her early years. In the same interview, she said her work was an attempt to capture “the shapes that people form when they’re trying to express something to another person”. In one of her studio workbooks she wrote “I take on the emotional lives of the people I invent... hoping by getting under their skin and becoming part of them I shall be able to release them from their suffering.”

Evelyn "Evie" Williams (1929-2012), was born in London to a radical Welsh writer and an opera singer. At an early age she was sent away to the Summerhill School in Suffolk, a progressive independent boarding school. Evelyn would later acknowledge that this separation from her parents had come at a time when she was much too young, and had had a profound influence on her, and on her art.

Evelyn studied art at St Martin’s School of Art in London, followed by the Royal College of Art. In 1961 she won the John Moores prize for sculpture. Despite critical acclaim for exhibitions of her work, and famous patrons including Helen Mirren and Fay Weldon, Evelyn did not receive the recognition from the Art Establishment afforded contemporaries such as Lucian Freud and Paula Rego (a personal friend), although upon her death obituaries were published in the Times, Telegraph and Guardian and a book recording their appreciation was published in 2013. Her works can be found in public collections as prominent as the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Of the book published by the Art Establishment, David Lee had said: "I think it is the most honest and authentic book about an artist I’ve ever read. Everything in it is felt and genuine. Her work is borne into the future on a tidal wave of love. Nobody exaggerates and everyone addresses the work directly, which is a testimony to how Evie’s work drags you straight into the profundities of life. Evie’s work will be looked at, understood and valued in a hundred years. This is the best reward for any artist neglected in their own time, that their work transcends fashion and touches us forever.”

Obituary in the Telegraph

Obituary in the Guardian