Gilding the Lily

Gilding the Lily, postcards, gold leaf, 2010 Gilding the Lily, postcards, gold leaf, 2010
Gilding the Lily, postcards, gold leaf, 2010 Gilding the Lily, postcards, gold leaf, 2010
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A series of gilded postcards depicting paintings in the collections of Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery. Gilding The Lily is a series of nine works made for the Visual Dialogues project between Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery and Tate Britain and were made in response to the castle collections and a Tate loan work by contemporary artist Ged Quinn. In both Landscape with Norwich Castle and Cathedral in the Distance (1843 or 1863) by William Henry Crome and Cross in the Wilderness by Ged Quinn, the artists appear to borrow from romantic depictions of landscape – the composition and framing in Crome’s painting could be drawn from the works of French 17th Century painter Claude Lorrain. Quinn openly draws from German Romantic Caspar David Freidrich’s Chasseur Im Wald. Quinn is well known for his allegorical works that draw on the classical style incorporating a wide vocabulary of references from art history to contemporary culture. Both Crome and Quinn have offered time travel in their works, playing on our perceptions and understanding of history through their recycling of the structures of classical painting and traditional aesthetic sensibilities. In Postproduction, Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World, Nicolas Bourriaud argues “ Artists’ intuitive relationship with art history is now going beyond what we call ‘the art of appropriation’ which naturally infers an ideology of ownership, and moving toward the culture of the use of forms, a culture of constant activity of signs based on a collective ideal: sharing. The Museum, like the City itself, constitutes a catalogue of forms, postures, and images for artists – collective equipment that everyone is in a position to use, not in order to be subjected to their authority but as tools to probe the contemporary world.” Both Quinn and Crome adopt elements of classical composition, thereby inheriting aesthetic sensibilities such as the golden mean, a point of balance and perfection between extremes expressed in mathematics, visual culture and philosophy. Gold leaf has a resonance with the ornate picture frames in the Norwich Castle Museum galleries; the gold frame is a motif seen repeatedly in Quinn’s work. Gold has financial value, is a symbol of spirituality and is the stuff of stories and myths. The works in the series Gilding the Lily attempt to juxtapose the uniqueness and significance of paintings with the common postcard reproduction and the worth of a rare and valued material. Loosely using the golden mean proportions, the gold leaf covers and reveals simultaneously.   Gilding the Lily formed part of the material produced during the respond/reply project. George Szirtes penned the poem below in response to the series.


Gilding Lilies

George Szirtes


A thin lick of gilt that frames the act,

One golden moment stolen from the sun,

The solid gold baby in the wretched cot

The glow of passing summer, snapped, snapped, snapped.


I am the king of gold, my Midas       touch

Lethal as the Gorgon’s stare. I am   classical

And hallowed, straight as a die   rapt

In perfections and somewhat beyond   gone

Out of the world well on the way to   truth

Dressed as cliché, each word poured   fresh

Minted, mounted, mantled, minuted,  mined.


Two reproductions of paintings by Raphael Soyer

Stood in for melancholy. My parents’ shorthand

Comprised the banalities of my own banality..

Our need of art came down to Raphael Soyer.

But why the melancholy? Why the need for it

In reproductions? Was it aspiration?

Cause enough, God knows! And yet the image

Was oddly fitting, creating our need for it.

We were modernists of nostalgia. The whole house

Swam and rang with the fetish of missing things,

Their nodding ceremonies, their hand-me-down

Lost gold look gilding the whole house.

Later I knew that Soyer wouldn’t cut it

Not half as much as melancholy did,

That gilding was a matter of melancholy,

A link to further links and as with any link

The only thing to do with it is cut it.


Sometimes the frame will swallow up the act.

Sometimes the memory outshines the sun.

Sometimes the cot of gold contains a child.

Sometimes a snap is the only thing you’ve got.