Oil Painting attributed to Margaret Preston

Article from Rhonda Davis, Senior Curator Macquarie Regional Art Gallery

La Cuisine (nature morte) aka The Kitchen Oil on canvas, 55 x 43 cm Signed and dated lower right, ‘M. R. McPherson/Paris 1913’ Painted in Paris Purchased Adelaide 1919, unknown. Trevor Henderson Collection. Heather Lynn 1980, then by descent.

In 1903, Margaret MacPherson received enough inheritance money following her mother’s death that afforded travel and study overseas, which she took up the following year. In that same year of her mother’s death, she had painted a work titled Eggs and stated it was one of the best still life paintings she had produced to date. ‘The eggs were under glass and so realistic they were almost short of hatching. It was my first effort in professional training.’ The Sydney Society of Arts selection committee took a different outlook and rejected the painting for inclusion into their annual exhibition. A decade later the eggs would reappear more luminously yellow and aggrandised in the glorious painting titled The Kitchen. The year 1904 marked a turning point as she departed Adelaide along with artist friend Bessie Davidson for Europe. The Parisian lifestyle and the experience of seeing first-hand exhibitions featuring the major players such as Cezanne, the Fauves and Van Gogh stirred the young McPherson to pursue more daring experimental ways of painting.

In 1907, McPherson and Davidson returned to Adelaide and mainly occupied her time in teaching art. By 1913, Paris called her back leaving Adelaide once again but this time with the artist Gladys Reynell. ‘Paris is the place par excellence for students…there one finds a constant inspiration in the student life, and contact with other workers, either great artists or students, who are developing along with one’s self.’

McPherson and Reynell were amongst a collective of artists living in Paris prior to the outbreak of the First World War. The Australian ex-patriates artists formed a close-knit community that included Rupert Bunny, Gladys Reynell, Bessie Davidson and Marie Tuck. The artists gathered around the Latin Quarter absorbing its atmospheric bohemian lifestyle. On their arrival, McPherson and Reynell rented a sun-filled and “charming” flat on the fifth floor of the Rue Madame in the April 1912. The space contained a balcony where she preferred to use as a studio working en plein air catching the light, temperament and atmosphere of the city. Similarly, two decades later during her Berowra period 1932-39 Margaret Preston preferred to work outdoors, a credo that stuck with her since those early days in Paris. ‘I have the feeling of this bush up here and I never use a studio. I paint all over the place, out on the verandah, under the trees, anywhere the spirit moves me.’

One of the comparable still life paintings to The Kitchen is the work November on the Balcony, 1913 [unknown location] painted on the balcony of Rue Madame flat was exhibited in the New Salon in the July of that year. The image composed of two porcelain cups, a plate, and a glass on a white tablecloth, ‘she achieves some very delicate atmospheric effects.’ Those atmospheric effects can be attributed to her first stay in Paris when she under the tutelage of American artist living in Paris Richard Miller. McPherson followed his lead of encompassing breadth and lending ‘atmospheric’ touches to her practice.

The Kitchen no doubt was painted in this very flat on the Rue Madame ‘All her work is done in the flat, she tells us, and she is very decided in her preference for the subdued light of a room which she considers more artistic than the glare of a studio. And after seeing the dozens of exquisite still-life studies which with characteristic good-nature she brings forth for us to view.’

McPherson is experimenting with spatial elements of cubism breaking up and enlivening the picture plane with angular movements running diagonally through the canvas. The table is laid out for cooking and serving. Onions that are half peeled, eggs fried to perfection in a French cast iron round pot, their yellow plumpness the eggs are ready to be devoured alongside sits a jug of water, a glass of Bordeaux. Perhaps an evening meal. These are common visual tropes that McPherson uses to innovate her modernism. She slices through the picture plane with bold geometric angular shapes that form an overlapping pattern visibly attuned within the fabric of the tablecloth or tea towel that covers the table. The elevated perspective augments a cinematic view of The Kitchen as if the viewer is looking down upon a stage.

You can find the painting for sale in our current auction:
Original artworks, photographs, prints, and art books

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Viewing Monday Friday 10am 4pm.
When June 7, 12:00 PM
Location  Dalgety Square at C11/372-428 Wattle Street, Ultimo, NSW 2007
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