A vibrantly colourful decorative piece which is almost an abstraction, this painting of a group of scent bottles seems a work of pure representation – a study of surface effects and physical attributes. It trails behind its innocent appearance, however, a long art historical backwash of emblematic objects, which has worn its way so far into the collective consciousness that it can appear out of context and still trigger the same response to its meaning. Here is the toilet of Venus without the need for Venus; an evocation of beauty preparing for conquest, like the School of Fontainebleau painting in the Louvre (c.1550) in which Cupid hands Venus a gold flagon of scent, or Georges Seurat’s Young woman powdering herself (1890, Courtauld Institute), where the handmaiden and Cupid have vanished, leaving Venus alone with her looking-glass and scent bottles. Rose’s picture is a vanitas from which Venus herself has now disappeared; – but it is also a painterly game, in which the artist choreographs reflections, transparency, and the fall and refraction of light.
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Stephen Rose was born in Rochford, Essex, in 1960. His career as an artist began when, aged 8, he saw a print of Caravaggio’s Conversion of St Paul. He was trained at the Medway College of Art (1979-80), Cheltenham College of Art (1980-83; BA Hons in Fine Art), the British School in Rome (1982), and the Royal Academy of Art (1983-86; Diploma in Fine Art). In 1992 he was elected Brother of the Art Workers Guild, Bloomsbury, London.
He has won various awards, including the British Institute Award, 1983; the Royal Academy Painting Prize, 1984; the Landseer Scholarship, 1985; the Richard Ford Travelling Scholarship, 1986 (when he studied at the Prado, Madrid); and the Royal Overseas League International Painting Competition Travelling Prize, 1987 (when he visited in northern India). He has exhibited at the ICA, the Mall Galleries, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and the National Portrait Gallery (BP Portrait Competition); in 2001 he had his first one-man exhibition at Target, in Munich, Germany.
Publications: How to paint in oils, Winsor & Newton, 2008