Triple Composition

Each new painting provides new challenges, and this one is no exception. There are many different elements at play in this work and it is my task to make sure that they all communicate well with each other and don’t look too separate.


We have the house in the background, which is the actual Humphry Marshall house as it still exists today, with the slight addition of Humphry’s wooden observatory projecting from the side of the building. It has long since fallen off in our time, but would still have been intact back then. In a compositional sense this building will be a much bigger player in the final work than John Bartram’s house was in his painting. As the focus of the show I wanted to give the house Humphry built himself its due.

The next major element is the garden to the left of the three botanists. Since Humphry’s garden is long gone I decided to base the space in the painting on the wonderful garden of David Culp (the model for Humphry Marshall in my other paintings and a major contributor to the show). In particular this is a take on David’s vegetable garden, something that the Marshall family had, though we don’t know what form. Also included with the garden is the inevitable dramatic sky above it!


The last element is, of course, the botanists themselves, their communication and relationship. They are the natural focus of the painting, but are also in more direct competition with their surroundings.

The consequence of having to balance these 3 disparate elements in the painting is that I will have to work on it very fast and all at once. Though the figures will need to wait until later, I need the unity created by a single painting session to make sure the work doesn’t end up looking like 3 smaller paintings stuck together. This is a problem even with more unified paintings, so I have to be particularly careful now. Regardless, I have quite a lot of oil to move in a relatively short amount of time – so the speed painting is necessary from both a practical and artistic angle!

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