Blue Plant Study
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Blue Plant Study

Stephen Ongpin Fine Art

Date 1975

Period Late 20th century

Origin Paris

Medium Pencil and white chalk on Arches paper washed blue.

Dimension 105 x 75 cm (41³/₈ x 29¹/₂ inches)

This large sheet was drawn in Paris in 1975, when Anthony Christian and his wife were living in the city for several months. As Paul Howard has noted of this period, ‘In Paris, even Christian’s drawing reached new heights as he made studies of his pregnant wife, of drapery and of plants and flowers he found in that City that had become so beloved to him.’3 The artist, in an unpublished autobiography, has recalled that ‘I found Paris had magnificent art shops and I bought some large sheets of highest quality paper which I tinted, cutting them in four for portraits but using the whole sheets for anything I was inspired to do. I started producing the most God-sparked drawings of my life, meaning that I felt…a force, or energy that was outside of myself working through me as I drew. I saw things appearing before me, drawings of a beauty beyond anything I felt I could possibly be capable of producing…’

Among the works created during this fruitful Parisian interlude was a monumental drawing of Christian’s pregnant wife Susan, on reddish-tinted paper, entitled The Rose Drapery and today in a private collection. The present sheet, titled by the artist Blue Plant Study, was drawn at about the same time as Rose Drapery, and was intended as a pendant to it. As Christian has recollected of Blue Plant Study, it was drawn from a flowering plant known as the honesty or annual honesty (Lunaria annua), and also known colloquially in America as a silver dollar and in Southeast Asia as a money plant. The plant, which can grow up to 90 cm. high, is distinguished by its large oval leaves, with delicate purple flowers in the late spring and early summer replaced, in mid to late summer, by translucent silvery round seedpods, which are often used in dried floral arrangements.

In his memoirs, Christian has written that, ‘Although I had always had them around in the London apartment, I had never thought of drawing the dried flower called Money Plant, or Honesty. But now that drawings seemed to pour out of me by a higher hand than my own, having found some Honesty soon after we had arrived in Paris and bought some to make us feel more at home, I became obsessed with drawing it. I made two or three studies to see what “the hand” might produce and was so impressed I finally took the leap to see if I might create what would be a pair to the Rose Drapery, but on a sheet I had tinted a lovely soft blue-grey.

Even though I felt that energy working through my hand, something that could only ever be understood by another artist and even then one from probably another age, still I felt moments of nervousness as I watched one beautiful study after another appearing on my paper while realizing the slightest “wrong” line would ruin the entire drawing. But those moments were short lived, and most of the time I was simply in the almost blissful space of someone who knows he is in the process of creating something sacred. At the end of quite a long day working without a break, I had a small space left in the left hand bottom corner and couldn’t resist adding a study of a maize that I’d bought, that still had its leaves attached  and then, filling the smallest space left just to finish off with a coup de grace as I felt by this point my hand could do anything, I added a stalk of wheat almost as a signature, and the drawing was at last complete. It became known as “Blue Plant Study” and did indeed join with the Rose Drapery in helping to form a small core of what I believed for many years was what Kenneth Clark had asked me for: “One of the greatest collections of drawings made by a British artist in this century.” I felt quite confident he would be more than satisfied, it just never occurred to me at that moment that I wouldn’t return to England in time to show him before [he] died. Shifting sands was a term unknown to me at that time.’

Both of the large drawings Rose Drapery and Blue Plant Study, which are of similar dimensions, were among the significant drawings and paintings - dating from throughout his career – that Anthony Christian never sold and always retained for his own collection, and which for several years were exhibited in his house-cum-studio in Bali. 

Date: 1975

Period: Late 20th century

Origin: Paris

Medium: Pencil and white chalk on Arches paper washed blue.

Dimension: 105 x 75 cm (41³/₈ x 29¹/₂ inches)

Provenance: Collection of the artist, until 2019.

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