Terry Chipp’s response to Henri Fuseli’s painting of “Mistress Page”
When the Look Again project was first broached I was working on a particular series of paintings as part of my performers-in-boxes theme. A chance encounter with a burlesque performer who was leading a burlesque dance class next door to my studio led to sketches and a photo-shoot and a series of colourful paintings. There was also a steep learning curve on the pitfalls of painting fishnet tights!
Looking through the Leeds University collection I came across Henri Fuseli’s painting of Mistress Page from Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. I have long been a fan of Fuseli’s dark and mysterious paintings and this picture of a figure emerging from the shadows seemed to resonate with the Box paintings that I had been doing. I wasn’t familiar with the play but fortunately a live screening of it was shown at the local cinema shortly afterwards which put the Fuseli work in context. Mistress Page and her friend were scheming to seduce and entrap Falstaff in revenge for his attempts to do the same.
There seemed to be a parallel between the playful seduction manner of Mistress Page and that of the burlesque performers. There was a similar link between the shadowed backgrounds of Fuseli’s picture and my previous Box paintings. I decided to try to make the links in my composition. My model struck a similar pose; emerging from the Box to echo the way Mistress Page emerges from the shadows. On this occasion I chose not to use deep shadows in my painting and kept the figure in full light because I felt that my more modern Mistress Page would be more confident and open in her approach.
Fuseli’s painting was the first. My practice painting was the second, so the final piece became “Mistress Page lll”.