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Painting of the Month - Cecil Riley, The Visitor, 2001

Posted on 21 March 2017

This month’s painting has been chosen with the theme of Easter in mind and comes from our much-loved Cecil Riley collection.

Cecil Riley - The Visitor, 2001 Oil 

If you’ve browsed through the Cecil Riley collection, you’ll notice that not only did Riley paint expressive, colourful landscapes inspired by the beauty of his home in Cornwall, but he also applied his style to various religious, Christian subjects. Our painting of the month is an example of this – showing a Christ-like figure ('The Visitor') being welcomed by local residents of a Cornish town.

The painting echoes the biblical tale of Christ entering into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, preceded by a crowd of people bearing palm leaves. In Riley’s version, the figure is being welcomed into a town that resembles Penzance - the building in the background is not too dissimilar in design to the Egyptian House, albeit with far less decoration! It certainly has the same luminescent presence in the street as the real building:

The Egyptian House, Penzance

We can see how Riley has used his naïve style, adopted by many Cornish artists of the twentieth century, to create a colourful and lively scene of celebration. People lift their arms to the sky and a holy light appears to emanate from an unseen height in the background. A very happy scene indeed!

Riley (1917-2015) was a Yorkshire born artist who spent much of his life in London and West Cornwall. He studied at the Slade School of Art, where he met Joan, a fellow artist, who would later become his wife. During his early career he lived in London, working as a sketch artist for British Lion Films and as an art teacher. In the 1970s, Cecil and Joan moved to the beautiful coasts of West Cornwall, where he remained until his death in 2015. Here, Riley became a member of the Newlyn Society of Artists, won various prizes for his work and exhibited across the country, including at the Royal Academy in London. Much of his religious work was created in the later stages of his life, suggesting a contemplative attitude to his artistic subjects. 

For example, in this more direct version of the Palm Sunday story we see Christ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. In this painting, however, we are reminded of Christ’s imminent death by a small scorpion in the foreground that threatens to bite at any moment:

Cecil Riley - Palm Sunday, 1994 Oil

Our third religious example shows the eclecticism of Riley’s style. Whilst much of his oeuvre reflects the child-like influence of the Cornish naïve style, this painting entitled The Last Supper is reminiscent of Pre-Raphaelite works:

Cecil Riley - The Last Supper, Mid 20th Century Oil

A far more naturalistic rendering of the figure can be detected, and the painting borrows the composition of many Medieval, Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite portraits that place the figure in front of a window. It is unclear who the figure is meant to be but perhaps the presence of the lily – a symbol of purity – and the offering of a bowl suggests that this is Christ himself.

It is clear from these examples that Riley was keen to explore the Easter story through his art and varied styles. We think that his work is fascinating and you can find out more about the artist in this article on our blog entitled, Cecil Riley: A Master of Versatility and Expression.

You can purchase our painting of the month here: Cecil Riley - The Visitor, 2001 Oil

Thanks for reading and Happy Easter!

Charlotte

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