Muriel oil on canvas signed and dated 'Colin M/1939' (lower right); titled and dated again 'Muriel. Nov. 1939.' (on the canvas overlap) 75 x 60.5 cm. (29 1/2 x 23 3/4 in.)
PROVENANCE: With The McClelland Gallery Sale; The McClelland Collection; James Adam's in association with Bonhams, Dublin, 7 December 2005, lot 30, where purchased by the present owner
EXHIBITED: Belfast, Stranmillis Museum & Art Gallery, 115 Works by Colin Middleton, August 1943
Muriel was painted at a time of great experimentation for Colin Middleton and his prolific output can be measured by the 115 paintings included in the 1943 one-man exhibition held at Belfast Museum and Art Gallery. The present painting was included in the 'Miscellaneous' section of this exhibition, works described by the artist as "considered worthy of place on their individual standing" but not part of the process that formed the eight main groups of the exhibition.
While Muriel lacks the rather metaphysical or symbolist nature of many of the works in this exhibition, it is typical of Middleton's early work in many ways. The clearly organised linear design and the highly finished paint surface recall the fact that he was still working as a damask designer at this time, while the sense of mystery and allusion recurs in other works, most notably Jou Jou, in which a similarly elegant woman in an isolated street confronts the viewer.
Muriel is pictorially connected to her surroundings by various repeated shapes and tonal links. For example, the slight shadow of the moon is repeated in her right eye and again in the light above the door behind her right shoulder. The hand that emerges from Muriel's coat is in shadow but it acts as a connection between her and the viewer, perhaps beckoning but also with the hint that she is about to draw back her cloak to entice her client further. Jou Jou deals more explicity with the idea that this woman is a prostitute, whereas Muriel is perhaps a later and more subtle version of the same idea, possibly even adapted for a Belfast audience, in which the figure and her role within this environment have been more completely integrated.
We are grateful to Dickon Hall for compiling this catalogue entry.