William Balthazar Rose

William Rose – Images of Bath and Italy

Jon Benington, Curator, Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, England

Landscapes of the city of Bath and the upper Tiber Valley in Italy are brought together with still lifes and whimsical character studies in this exhibition.  Though the subjects are wide ranging, the pictures are united by a remarkably consistent and personal pictorial language.  The vocabulary the artist articulates is that of the classical tradition, which is so prevalent in Bath with its splendid Roman and Georgian heritage.  A trained architect, William is certainly not immune to the charms of 18th-century buildings, and this does feed into his work, however he reserves his most passionate admiration for painters of the past such as Piero della Francesca, Chardin, Corot, Cézanne and Morandi.  He has even followed the Piero trail to the extent of settling in the town of the artist’s birth, Sansepolcro, thereby subjecting himself to many of the same sensory stimuli as the Renaissance master.

Vocabulary, of course, is well nigh meaningless without a governing grammar to lend it structure and form.  At the hands of William Rose, this is expressed in pictorial terms by combining carefully balanced compositions with pared down forms – by attending, in other words, to the proportions of his subjects.  The alchemy does not stop here, however, as witness his preference for understated colours and chalkily textured surfaces, and the quality of touch brought to bear in his brushwork.  There is a manifest delight in exploiting to the full the plastic properties of oil paint and, occasionally, the fresco medium.  This very sensual engagement with materials  totally refutes those who would argue that classicism is sterile or overtly intellectual.

Merely describing the painter’s methodology, however, will not enlighten the viewer as to the meaning of these works.  What are they about?  We will all take away something different, and that is only right and proper, but the lasting impression for me is one of a serene and fragile arcadia, an earthly foretaste of a better place.  Human protagonists, when they appear, are subservient to this sense of a higher order – apparent in their linear geometry –, albeit seasoned with a wry sense of humour.

It is a great pleasure to inaugurate this exhibition and its accompanying catalogue at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath.  Locals and visitors alike are bound to be intrigued to discover the abundant talents of this disarmingly modest painter.

Jon Benington – Curator, Victoria Art Gallery
Bath & North East Somerset Council

The excerpt above derives from Jon Benington’s introduction to the exhibition catalogue William Rose: Images of Bath and Italy. The venue of the Victoria Art Gallery offered the artist his first museum show, and was well suited to the subtle and understated quality of his work. Rupert Blunt and Jon Benington curated the show.


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