Box for portfolio

Joe Tilson (1928 - )

Stained, painted and stenciled wood portfolio box


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© Joe Tilson. All rights reserved, DACS 2016

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  • About the work
    Country: UK
    City: London
    Place: Government Art Collection
    This stained and stencilled box was made by Joe Tilson to house his prints depicting the nine muses from Greco-Roman mythology. These muses were the patron goddesses of poets, musicians, artists, and other practitioners of the liberal arts and sciences. Said to be the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Memory), the women are also believed to have been the mothers of such musical or artistic figures as Orpheus and Eumolpus. The number of muses was established as nine at an early date, although there was no overall consensus, and Delphi recognised only three. 

    The eighth-century (BC) Greek poet Hesiod made reference to the nine muses by name, and it was his list which became canonical. Though often associated with particular areas of the arts and sciences, and accompanied by various attributes, the muses are not always easy to tell apart from one another. 

    In the portfolio of prints, Tilson depicts Urania, the muse of astronomy, accompanied by a globe and Euterpe, the muse of music, with her traditional double flute. Clio, the muse of history, or of epic poetry, is shown standing in front of an open white book. Thalia, the muse of comedy and of pastoral poetry, is shown wearing orange and playing a small stringed instrument; whereas Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, is shown in red and surrounded by black. Erato, the muse of lyric and love poetry, carries her traditional musical instrument while Terpsichore, muse of dancing and choral song, dances in her orange dress. Polyhymnia, the muse of heroic hymns, carries her traditional attribute of a portative organ and finally Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, appears in a blue dress with what may be her attributes of a stylus and tablet.

    The representation of the nine muses can be understood as part of a longstanding interest of Tilson’s in both Italy and the structures by which we think about our lives. Natural cycles, the four elements, and aspects of pre-classical mythology, as well as mazes and labyrinths, are recurring themes in his art. These themes appear to transcend different cultures, echoing Tilson’s idea that the basic experiences of life remain constant throughout the ages.  

  • About the artist
    Joe Tilson is known for his paintings, prints and constructions. He was born in London in 1928 and began his working life as a carpenter, before serving in the Royal Air Force between 1946 and 1949. He studied in London at St Martin’s School of Art (1949–1952) and at the Royal College of Art (1952–1955), where Peter Blake was a fellow student. He was awarded the Rome Prize and lived in Italy from 1955 to 1957. On his return to Britain he taught at St Martin’s from 1958 to 1963 and also at the Slade School of Art in London, the School of Visual Arts in New York, and the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg. His first solo exhibitions were held in the early 1960s and his work attracted international attention when it was shown at the Venice Biennale in 1964. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1985 and was made a full Academician in 1991. More recently, he has exhibited THE FLAGS, a site-specific installation for the Swatch Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale, combining images from Venetian church facades, geometric patterns on stone flooring, and written inscriptions. His works can be found in a large number of collections around the world, including Tate and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He divides his time between Britain and Tuscany.
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  • Details
    Box for portfolio
    Stained, painted and stenciled wood portfolio box
    height: 56.60 cm, width: 41.30 cm, depth: 5.00 cm
    Purchased from Alan Cristea Gallery, March 2006
    on box cover (stenciled): LE / NOVE / MUSE / TILSON / VERONA
    Alan Cristea Gallery, London
    GAC number