La Cathédrale Engloutie Arabesque 3

Ceri Richards (1903 - 1971)

Watercolour, wax crayon and collage on hardboard

5 June 1962

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© Estate of Ceri Richards. All rights reserved, DACS 2016

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  • About the work
    Country: Other
    City: storage

    Inspired by Debussy’s 1910 piano prelude of the same title, 'La Cathédrale Engloutie' is one of a series of drawings, watercolours, constructions and lithographs which Ceri Richards produced in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Debussy’s composition, 'The Sunken Cathedral', was itself based on a Breton legend about the cathedral of Ys that recounted that the cathedral’s bell and organ could still be heard echoing from the depths of the sea which had engulfed it. Richards' watercolour features the motifs of a cross, a keyboard and music sheets juxtaposed by two rose windows of arabesque pattern, slightly distorted in shape as if seen through water. Richards reworked these and additional liturgical motifs in other combinations in this series.  

    A talented pianist, Richards came from a musical family; his father conducted several choirs. His Welsh inheritance and innate musicality made him especially responsive to the parallel arts of music and poetry. Much of his work was directly inspired by specific poems and pieces of music, notably by his fellow countrymen Dylan Thomas and Vernon Watkins, and by Beethoven as well as Debussy. The 'Cathédrale Engloutie' series of paintings and constructions is thought by many to be Richards’ crowning achievement. About this, the artist once commented: 

    'I painted the 'Cathédrale Engloutie' over and over again. Painting is such a difficult exercise that sometimes I despair of it. Frances [his wife] tells me I groan when I’m painting. She says she can hear me, although I’m at the top of the house and she is downstairs. Yes I groan. Can you imagine that in this mood I could play Beethoven’s sonata in F minor? I would go mad. I need something soothing, and that’s what Debussy does for me'.   

  • About the artist
    Born in Dunvant, a mining village near Swansea, Ceri Richards studied at Swansea School of Art. In the early 1920s, he attended the Royal College of Art where he later taught, in addition to teaching at the Slade and Chelsea School of Art. He often returned to the Gower Peninsula in Wales, which inspired his work. Richards became Head of Painting at Cardiff School of Art during the Second World War. In 1961 he won a gold medal at the National Eisteddfod and in 1962, won the Einaudi Painting Prize at the Venice Biennale. A versatile artist, he made prints, collages, reliefs, costume designs and paintings. He was a Tate Trustee from 1958 to 1965, and received a CBE in 1961. After Richards’ death, major exhibitions of his work were held in Cardiff, Chichester and London.
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  • Details
    La Cathédrale Engloutie Arabesque 3
    5 June 1962
    Watercolour, wax crayon and collage on hardboard
    height: 48.40 cm, width: 38.70 cm
    Purchased from Marlborough Fine Art, November 1965
    br: La / Cathédrale / Engloutie / Ceri Richards June 5 / 62
    GAC number