Perched on the prow of a hill, panning out over quintessentially beautiful English countryside, Josephine Trotter’s farm and studio form the ‘heart nexus’ for her paintings of an ever-changing landscape that unravels around her. Her passion is landscape, and painting sur le motif her forte. ‘I have to be completely captivated by the subject matter and find myself engrossed through the day as the colour and light change around me.’

As such, she has a true engagement with the land, painting directly from her chosen subject. Undeterred by the inclemency of the British climate or the mistrals of southern France, she never reworks the canvas in the studio, and it is this passion that fires her painting with vitality and vigour. It is an integral feature of her life and her painting that, irrespective of the weather, she rides each morning for two hours accompanied by a troupe of much loved dogs.

British & French: New Paintings, Trotter’s eighteenth solo exhibition, celebrates the diversity of landscape across Britain, from the islands of Scaffa and Jura off the west coast of Scotland to the mountains and valleys of Cumbria and Northumberland, and the quieter rolling hills of Wiltshire and Dorset.

A focal point of the exhibition is a series of six London bridges spanning the Thames. Trotter’s distinctive view of Battersea Bridge topped with double-decker buses and flanked by house and working boats conveys the dynamic of a bustling metropolis. Her Tower Bridge at Night with reflected lights dancing on the water captures the drama of historic London and, by contrast, Albert Bridge depicts the surprising graciousness of design at odds with late-Victorian architecture which traditionally favoured an imperialistic conservatism.

Trotter’s passion for southern France is reflected in her paintings of pensions and chateaux such as Cuq en Terrasses and Cuq Toulza. Replacing the blues and cooler greens of the northern hemisphere with the golds, terracottas and olive greens of Provence, her French portfolio exudes the same fullness of spirit, with paint applied sumptuously to reflect the richness of the landscape.

Informed by modern British painters such as Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash and Julian Trevelyan, and influenced by impressionists from Derain to Van Gogh, Josephine Trotter has been painting for over fifty years. When asked whom she admires most, she does not hesitate: ‘Cezanne for his control of form’. As both artist and teacher, Trotter has a fundamental appreciation of form, ‘the groundwork of which needs to be mastered before you can play around with it’. And play around with it she does. The moulding of the hills in Heddington, Wiltshire is redolent of the physicality of bodily form. Hanging beside a nude of her favourite model, Christine, in the studio, there is a shared expression of form in both body and landscape. Fields are moulded over the contours of the mountains that swim shoulder to shoulder like a school of whales. Shadows of clouds race across the hills in The Cheviots. Fauvist in expression, Trotter’s palette is exotic yet strangely not at odds with the landscape. Lapiz blues and mauves are laid down unashamedly against verdurous greens. There is a flavour in their hue and intensity borrowed perhaps from childhood recollections of India where she spent her primary years. The application of paint, as Martin Gayford describes, ‘in all its glorious physicality’ is sumptuous, and a measure of her enjoyment in the sheer exercise of painting.

Perceived by many as a ‘painter’s painter’, Trotter studied life-drawing privately with Slade Professor Maurice Field for two years before attending Chelsea School of Art where she was tutored by Euan Uglow, Ceri Richards and Norman Adams. ‘I feel privileged to have trained at a time when drawing was the crux and bones of art education and very hard work’. As William Packer noted when reviewing her last exhibition, that sense of ease is deceptive: ‘Her paintings may look, therefore, direct and simple in the statement, the product of an hour or two spent in easy, happy circumstances, but they are underpinned by disciplines long studied and hard won – disciplines of close observation, organisation and technical address, of light, space and form.’

On those days when she cannot paint outside, Trotter is absorbed in still life and interiors. Her paintings of fish, flowers and fruit are executed in oil on canvas with the same application and focus that she accords to landscape. Her enjoyment of onions – their shape and colour – continues to inspire her. Revisiting her favourite mackerel and tulips or lilies, in the same way that she will return to paint a particular landscape, she is constantly seeking to improve and to translate that vitality onto canvas.

Although oil on canvas is Trotter’s preferred medium, she also has a long tradition of painting interiors in ink and gouache on paper. These ‘coloured’ drawings are like jewels. Beautifully composed, they capture the still afternoons of quiet drawing-rooms and elegant homes that she has visited. Momentarily unpeopled, they are not uninhabited. Windows look out onto well-tended gardens, and you can almost hear the clock ticking.

When looking at Josephine Trotter’s work we are reminded of the painters who continue to inspire her, but she has her own distinct style so that when you see a Trotter, it is undoubtedly a Trotter. She pays respect to her masters but has carved her own path over five decades and it is a pleasure to see that her golden age is in the ‘now’ and not behind her. Works such as Heddington, Wiltshire and Battersea Bridge that she refers to as ‘not altogether bad paintings’, together with Cuq en Terrasses and The Cheviots, are truly remarkable paintings.

Josephine Trotter, British & French: New Paintings 6 – 18 June 2011, The Gallery in Cork Street, 28 Cork Street, London W1S 3NG Monday – Sunday 10am-6pm

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