Beatrice 1964 is one of the 'Apollo' series of paintings that Natkin began in 1961 and continued (somewhat fitfully) through the 1960s and into the early 1970s. In Beatrice, as in many of the series, vertical bands of colour assume an almost architectural aspect giving the appearance of doorways and windows. Bruce Glaser has pointed out that the title for the series derives in part from a sonnet by Rainer Maria Rilke titled 'Archaic Torso of Apollo' that attracted Natkin while he was working on the first works in the series. Glaser also noted that as the god of light and music, Apollo lent his name to many theatres and picture palaces which the impressionable young Natkin attended with his family.1 The 'Apollo' series draws on those memories of the curtained stage and decorative façades and ornamental architecture of the theatres.
Natkin has admitted other influences on the colour and composition of the 'Apollo' paintings. In an interview with Peter Fuller he stated that he worked with verticals in his compositions to avoid the suggestion of landscapes:
I was already stealing so much from Impressionism. I did not want to put in their traditional imagery, too. It was too embarrassing … The horizon line is probably the most important line I a landscape; so at least by turning it the other way I could hide the reference, and in that way I hoped something more personal might come to be seen.2
In a letter to the Gallery Natkin stated that:
The painting Beatrice is very much inspired by many of those paintings by Bonnard of 'A Woman in the Bathtub'. In the late 50s and throughout the 60s and 70s, the romantic and sensual use of paint and color of Bonnard's work … inspired my art … I used a format of mostly vertical structures. I was so painfully working on the nature of the painting's light, color and skin … [that] I wanted as few problems as possible regarding the geography (composition) of the paintings.3
Of the title Beatrice — the Beatrice of Dante's Divine Comedy — Natkin recalled that it 'refers to a nostalgic remembrance of a color reproduction in my high school Latin book. I don't remember the artist. It was probably some God-awful Pre-Raphaelite artist whose painting was probably badly reproduced'.4
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.346.
- Bruce Glasser, 'Robert Natkin and the Muses: Recent Paintings and Classical History', in Robert Natkin: New Paintings, New York: André Emmerich Gallery, 1978 (exhibition catalogue).
- Peter Fuller, 'Interview with Robert Natkin', in Robert Natkin, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1981, p.304.
- Robert Natkin, correspondence with the Gallery, 22 November 1991.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010