Marcelle, with her considerable visual memory and intelligence, was an expert on the Flemish Primitives which were so prominent in her native Bruges. She loved their unflinching realism, depiction of texture, colour and composition. By comparison she regarded the Italians as decadent. ‘Rafael, hélas!’ Her family had bought the van Eyck’s ‘Portrait of his Mother’ in a fish-market, now in the Groeninge Museum, Bruges. This insight also allowed her an acute awareness of the aesthetic value of a picture. On a visit to the National Portrait Gallery, London. with an art historian of international renown, he regaled us with a precise account of each subject and artist. “Yes.” said Marcelle ” But you realise that there is not a decent picture in this room.” Gulp! Shock, Horror. And a few moments later “Yes, I suppose you are right”.
“Truth is beauty. Beauty is truth” said Keats. Marcelle recognised truth in what may have been thought ugly. I was dragged off to see the Matthias Grünewald, Isenheim Altarpiece of the Crucifiction which had been painted for lepers. Conversely, she despised the untruthfull in art such as propaganda which was demanded of artists in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia and their derivatives such as ‘Social Realism’. A reasonably good English artist, Richard Hamilton, was persuaded by his ‘Ban the Bomb’ CND wife to depict Hugh Gaitskill as a Hitleresque monster. Obviously untrue and, to my mind, it destroyed his artistic integrity. Great artists, although maybe dissatisfied with a work, never produce a bad picture, even with scribbles on a napkin. I have a Calder drawn around a wine stains on a catalogue of his work.
She supported any artist who had genuine enthusiasm but tended to to be realistic about those with popular acclaim but lesser talent. She admired many contemporaries, Burri, Tapies, Mathieu, Coetzee. Her hero was van Gogh. At that time Francis Bacon, undoubtedly talented, was being extolled to me by his patron, Eric Hall, but I never met him, partly due to Marcelle’s only comment “Invertebrate painting”. The ‘greatest’ artist of the time in England was Annigoni. The prevailing philistinism amazed her. When my Uncle was proudly showing her around his house which he had just inherited from my Grandfather and where there were some good pictures, pointed to a well known reproduction of the Virgin and announced that it was by an artist called Esteban. “Yes” said Marcelle “Esteban Murillo”. Later her romantic side emerged at his funeral when she burst into tears as a bugler from his old regiment, that he had commanded, played ‘The Last Post’.
Envy was foreign to her but was not reciprocated by other artists. On one occasion Gwen Barnard, President of the Women’s International Art Club (WIAC) having spotted Marcelle wanted her as a member to raise standards. I had to struggle up to Hampstead with a couple of enormous reliefs which were promptly rejected, turned down by 2 artists (better remain unnamed) who were good and capable of judging her work. Perhaps this says something. Gwen was furious.
Some critics saw, but did not express, an underlying powerful feminism in her work of brooding power and intensity and inspired one (female) critic to write in 1961 ”Overwhelming and unreasonably brutal”, which Marcelle took as a compliment. Beth Elliott has examined this further. Henry Sanford
Vincent van Gogh & MvC.
Vincent van Gogh was Marcelle’s inspiration. Eerily, her life moved along lines similar to his except that alcohol has to be substituted for van Gogh’s bipolar psychosis. She had a troubled childood being ignored and decried by her mother. Her extrardinary visual memory and talent were recognised early by the artistically sophisticated nuns at her boarding school and a solo show at the Palais des Beaux Arts at Brussels at the age of 19. Just as van Gogh’s move to Arles in 1885 proved liberating for his vision and colour sense, so her remarriage and move from the Belgian coast to London in 1954/5 proved liberating for her imagination and a change in style to abstract expressionism and beyond. Like van Gogh this was ahead of the taste of the cognoscenti except for the very few, which included Anthony Denney & Denis Bowen. Her genius was recognised by Pierre Rouve when other critics, realising her potential importance, were merely respectful and tended to enumerate her artistic materials, which were, of course, original. Compared to her contemporaries, Fontana, Burri, Mathieu and others her work was more innovative and emotionally powerful. She aschewed repetetive and facile expression, most of her work being experimental, which made it difficult for dealers to cope with it. Tragically, by the mid 1960’s alcoholism precluded further work and she died in 1990 HAS 6/8/2016
ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response)?
A number of people have noticed a ‘prickling’ physiological effect, now known as Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), in the presence of Marcelle’s work.
Robert Graves in his ‘White Goddess’ (1948 – The White Goddess : a Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth -London: Faber & Faber) describes this effect and attributed it to the true measure of a poet to faithfulness in depicting the White Goddess, of ancient tradition who was worshipped under many titles and forms, whether nymph, mother or crone, of the early matriarchal societies, thus proving the truth and source of his or her mystical inspiration. Matriarchy, to be overthrown by invading patriarchal Indo-europeans, may have never existed but these emotional and physiological effects can be observed in poetic, musical and visual art forms and now as a form of therapy using soft sounds and whispers. .