John P. SOULE, Thomas Moran America's greatest scenic artist sketching at bright AngelCove, Grand Canon of Arizona. Enlarge 1 /1


United States of America

Thomas Moran America's greatest scenic artist sketching at bright AngelCove, Grand Canon of Arizona. 1870
Collection Title: Nigel Lendon stereography collection - International
Place made: United States of America
Materials & Technique: photographs, albumen prints, stereograph albumen silver photographs Support: photographic paper, mounted on publisher's printed card
Impression: 1212
Place Published: Washington,D.C.,: Underwood & Underwood, c .1905

Dimensions: printed image 7.9 h x 15.5 w cm card 8.8 h x 17.6 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1983
Accession No: NGA 83.3665.379
Subject: Collection: The Nigel Lendon collection of Australian and International stereographs, acquired 1983. landscape

A shadow or silhouetted figure carries only limited information; the viewer of any shadow can embellish it with meaning and reason of their own. Plato's cave: Painting no. 4 is in many ways a puzzle and exhibits Brent Harris’s exploration of a series of open-ended ideas.

Painting no. 4 is one of eight works referencing the ancient philosophical conundrum, ‘The Allegory of the Cave’, set out in Plato’s classic text The Republic. The allegory describes a group of people who are forced to live their lives chained in a cave. Their only view of the world is through shadows projected by the light of a fire onto the cave wall. The philosopher is the one who can see life beyond the cave projections.

In Painting no. 4 we are presented with the shadow of a looming figure, his large hip suggesting a lumbering elderly man. Is he stepping into the void of the painting, or stepping out of that space? While drawn by the artist from the projection of a real man onto the canvas, in the painting he seems enigmatic and ghostly. Elsewhere in this series the figure of a white floating woman appears. In Painting no. 4 we see a form that could suggest a woman’s head with long, dangling hair, perhaps a reference to things past, but this remains evocative and open-ended.

The artist has said of this painting:

I think the shadow suggests a man alone. The white form at his side a memory of a character from his past, but perhaps also looking a lot like a whip that could reference self-judgement, a life assessed as he is about to move beyond the visible. My images are nearly always cropped, part objects. They can never fully declare a meaning. Just like life.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014