“A sensation of deep slumber” – Dod Procter’s ‘Early Morning’ revisited

This Tuesday’s Bite-size Museum Talk by Dr Alexandra Loske will focus on Dod Procter’s painting Early Morning (1927), on display in the Fine Art Gallery at Brighton Museum. Dr Alexandra Loske will discuss the timeless appeal of this painting. almost minimalist painting  showing a woman lying, dressed in white, on white sheets – perhaps sleeping, perhaps daydreaming – drenched in warm morning light.

Below is an updated version of Dr Loske’s previous post on Doc Procter

Early Morning by Dod Procter, 1927
Early Morning by Dod Procter, 1927

Dod Procter’s Early Morning is an almost minimalist painting showing a woman lying, dressed in white, on white sheets – perhaps sleeping, perhaps daydreaming – drenched in warm morning light.

Brighton Museum’s painting is a second, smaller version of Procter’s famous Morning from 1926, which was displayed at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1927. It was voted Picture of the Year and purchased for £300 by the Daily Mail for the Tate Gallery, where it still hangs. It proved so popular that it toured the country shortly after it was first shown and was even displayed in America, where a magazine described it as ‘pure sincerity of workmanship’, expressing ‘a sensation of deep slumber’.

Model Cissie Barnes from a 1927 newspaper. Image courtesy of Annie Barnes.
Model Cissie Barnes from a 1927 newspaper. Image courtesy of Annie Barnes.

The model was Cissie Barnes, a young girl from Newlyn, Cornwall, where Procter, born Doris (‘Dod’) Shaw in 1892, had attended the Forbes’ School of Painting from 1907 onwards.  She met her future husband Ernest at the Forbes’ School, himself a gifted and popular artist, and they married there in 1912. At Newlyn she also forged a friendship with the painter Laura Knight, who would later become the first female Royal Academician since the first two female founding members, Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser in 1768. A painting by Laura Knight in our collection, The Ballet Shoe (c.1932), currently hangs next to Early Morning.

Both Ernest and Dod Procter also studied briefly in Paris at the Académie Colarossi, one of the few art schools where female students were allowed to attend life drawing classes. Other famous students included the sculptor Camille Claudel and, later, Henry Moore. In Paris Dod Procter developed a strong interest in figure painting and her favourite subject throughout her career was undoubtedly the single female figure. Influenced by the French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, in particular Pierre-Auguste Renoir, she paid great attention to light and bright colours in her work. The women in Procter’s paintings usually fill most of the picture plane, are shown in a state of silent reflection, and often wear deliberately simple clothes that make little or no reference to current fashion. Instead, there is a monumentality, strength and stillness to her figures that is accentuated by the use of clothes as mere drapery, reminiscent of classical or even funereal sculpture.

The Procters later set up their own school in Newlyn, offering tuition in painting and drawing. Dod Procter was also interested in botany and her body of work contains a large number of floral still lives. In 1934, Ernest Procter was appointed Director of Studies in Design and Craft at the Glasgow School of Art, but died only a year later, aged only 49. The couple had retained a home in Cornwall and Dod continued to live and work there until her death in 1972. By the 1960s Procter’s realist and figurative style was considered old-fashioned. Although she had become a full Royal Academician in 1942, she hoped in vain for a retrospective at the Royal Academy towards the end of her life and is still a relatively unknown artist. Her only solo exhibition to date was in 2007 at the Penlee House Art Gallery and Museum in Penzance.

Dr Alexandra Loske, Art Historian and Curator

One Response

  1. It is indeed an attractive painting and one that, in this age when shapeless lumps of stone and canvasses covered with meaningless squiggles pass for “art”, reminds us what art is and allows us to admire the talent and consummate skill of the true artist.

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