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Study for St. Gilles # 2, 1962

Not on view

Study for St. Gilles # 2, 1962

Artist: Ralston Crawford (American, 1906 - 1978)

Date: 1962
Medium: Black ink on wove paper from a spiral-bound notebook
Overall: 8 1/4 x 10 9/16in. (21 x 26.8cm)
Image: 5 3/4 x 9in. (14.6 x 22.9cm)
Markings: Watermark, right (in script): "[...eteries F (or T) Barjon Moirans.."
Inscribed: Recto, lower left center (black ink): "7•21•62"; lower left (black ink): "11 R12"; verso, lower right (black ink): "10."
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 66.26
Text Entries

Crawford’s lifelong encounters with water inspired him profoundly. He wrote, “At sea the quality of feeling in direct contact with forces bigger than oneself is frequently present. . . . Such indirect experiences, remote in some ways from actual picture-making, are the basic nourishment for the artist . . .[who] must be nourished by broader experience.”(1)

Crawford and his family spent the summers of 1955, 1957, and 1962 in the French seaside villages of Croix-de-Vie and St. Gilles.(2) The stuff of these fishing towns—lobster pots, boats, nets, ropes—provided the artist with ample material for his work. In the early 1960s he produced the St. Gilles series; it depicts, more and less abstractly, things dockside. Typically, Crawford applied photography, drawing, painting, and printmaking to his manifold permutations of the subject. Of the series’s four paintings, the second, and one of its drawings, are in the collection of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute.(3) A comparison of the photographs, drawings, and paintings reveals the degree to which Crawford refined the original objects into formalist arrangements of linear pattern and spatial relationships.(4)

The MWPI painting, St. Gilles #2, is compositionally very similar to St. Gilles #1, but the latter includes much more information about objects, light, and shadow. It is more legible as a seaside still life than the highly reductive St. Gilles #2.(5) The MWPI drawing exists in an intermediate stage between these two paintings and explicates Crawford’s process of paring down visual information. In the center of the drawing, the square form retains lines that are present in St. Gilles #1 but are deleted in St. Gilles #2. Crawford also included in the drawing curved and slanted lines in vestigial description of fishing paraphernalia. Perspectival illusion is thwarted, however, by Crawford’s play of space. He used cross-hatching to block out passages in the upper right corner and the left margin and balanced these sections with large areas of white to create a nice tension between negative and positive space. In so doing, Crawford effectively flattened the image and made it much more abstract, as it appears in the painting St. Gilles #2.

The ocean and its milieu have been the subject of great expressionistic works of art by more romantically inclined creators. Crawford’s formalist depiction of seaside life has such emotional distance that one may not even associate the original source to the final work of art.(6) Like Sheeler, Crawford resisted displays of expressive crafting in the art- making process, and his use of pen and ink is consistent with this objective approach.


1. Artist’s statement in Edward H. Dwight, Ralston Crawford (Milwaukee, Wis.: Milwaukee Art Center, 1958), 11. See also Ralston Crawford and the Sea (New York: Hirschl and Adler Galleries, 1991).

2. See H. H. Arnason, “Ralston Crawford,” in Ralston Crawford, Oils and Lithographs (New York: Nordness Gallery, 1963), unpaginated, and Barbara Haskell, Ralston Crawford (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1985), 115.

3. The other three paintings are in the artist's estate, care of the Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York. The MWPI drawing was torn from a spiral-bound sketch pad; Crawford did several drawings of the subject in late June and July 1962.

In addition to the four paintings and drawings, Crawford printed four lithographs entitled St. Gilles #1-4. These are autonomous compositions, further variations on the theme, and do not reproduce the paintings of the same title. Arnason, “Ralston Crawford,” reported that Crawford often produced lithographs while in France (prior to the print boom in the United States) because he could work with master printers in the Desjobert or Mourlot ateliers.

For related work, see also Crawford’s Fishing Boats and Lobster Pot series from the same period.

4. See Haskell, Ralston Crawford, 80, for a description of Crawfords use of photography.

5. It should be noted that Crawford probably worked on the St. Gilles paintings simultaneously; one of his studies for St. Gilles #4, for example, is dated “July 6 + July 8 + 9, ‘62", which predates the MWPI drawing by a few weeks. Therefore, the MWPI painting should not be seen as a “correction” of St. Gilles #1; it is a second interpretation of a similar composition. Moreover, St. Gilles #3 and St. Gilles #4 are not compositionally related to the other two paintings; St. Gilles #3 is very abstract, while #4 is more descriptive.

6. See Haskell, Ralston Crawford, 75.


© Ralston Crawford Estate / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY