PAUL PEEL, R.C.A.
Dominion Gallery, Montreal
Private Collection, Toronto
Paul Peel (1860-1892) departed London, Ontario for France at the end of October 1880 via London, England, where he had relatives and where it is believed he passed the winter months, reaching Paris in March 1881. He may well have audited classes at the free South Kensington Art School (renamed Royal College of Art in 1897) attached to the South Kensington Museum (Victoria and Albert Museum since 1890). Drawing from plaster casts after antique and renaissance statuary was a fundamental instructional method for fledgling artists as was study and copy work after recognized masterworks held in museums. This composition could as much represent a student copyist working in the corner of the museum as in a private studio given the presence of a full-sized cast of Boy Wrestling with A Goose, after a Roman copy (1st–2nd centuries AD) of a lost Greek 2nd -century BC original held in the Vatican Museum.
The accomplished Victorian painters’ studio was a veritable mini museum; an eclectic mix of in-progress and recent artwork displayed for the potential patron, the odd inspirational plaster cast, practical equipment (such as the taboret storage box seen here) and the odd exotic items reflective of the artist’s cosmopolitan tastes and interests - eastern carpets and tables for the well-paid professional artist. Here the focus is on a modest studio setup reflective of a budding artist’s set-up. Its main figure is a young female student in contemporary dress, with work apron on, seated before Boy Wrestling with A Goose, the presumed object of her sketching. Yet, looking down at the little sketchbook in her lap, with her back turned and face hidden, she is not captured in the actual act of creation, but in a private, enigmatic moment of contemplation. Her small dark figure competes with the smooth white, light-reflecting surfaces of the sculpture. In the Studio is a cerebral, classically balanced composition, demonstrating the young Peel’s accumulated art historical and practical knowledge and the range of his skills and professional practice, including sculpture, both relief and in the round, and painting: portraiture, genre and landscape. The palette on the floor is a calling card of the artist, standing just outside viewing range.
We thank Victoria Baker for providing this essay.