Adelaide, South Australia, Australia 1893 – London, England 1947
La terrasse (The terrace)
Villa Paul, Cap Brun, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Var, France
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas
La terrasse was painted at Villa Paul, Cap Brun in the south of France. It is a painting of Stella Bowen’s personal world at the time. Bowen and her daughter Julia sought refuge in this villa, picturesque but without amenities, to escape the financial difficulties they were experiencing in Paris. Bowen’s original intention was to take Julia to her old attic studio at Toulon but the English writer Ford Madox Ford, who had been Bowen’s partner for nine years until 1928, suggested that Bowen take their daughter to the villa he was vacating for the winter. Julia continued to remain the link between them despite the end of their relationship.
In La terrasse Bowen used a sombre palette, one she reverted to after her break-up with Ford. The paint surface is broad and loose, probably painted very quickly. One of her favourite motifs was a glimpse of interiors, with windows looking out into the garden. The interior here is drab, reflecting the condition of the premises. In her autobiography Drawn from Life, Bowen described the villa: ‘when we arrived in October the weather broke, and we had to live indoors. Here cobwebs hung in black festoons, and broken windows admitted rushing draughts, and the three of the five electric lights were out of action.’* It also matched her mood, which was compounded by her continuing struggle to survive in Paris, both as a single parent and artist, while the economic situation for foreigners worsened. It became increasingly difficult for Bowen to obtain portrait commissions, her main source of income at the time.
In the painting, the foot of the sleigh bed indicates that this could be a bedroom, possibly Bowen’s. The view through the window is wintry. The gnarled tree with its broken branches seems to be a symbol for the end of their relationship. Yet despite the desolation she felt, Bowen loved the south of France, particularly the relaxed lifestyle, friendships, food and conversation; it imbued her with a new lease of life when all else was gloom.
Lola Wilkins 2002.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002