Gallery: Sarah Raphael |
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Sarah Raphael

If this website were a temple complex, then this pavilion devoted to Sarah Raphael would be its Taj Mahal. The stricken Shah Jahan was trying to build a memorial to lost beauty, and here I am trying to do the same. The big difference in motivation, however, is that the beauty of Sarah’s amazing work was not lost with her tragic early death, but has only increased since, so really one is engaged not in a battle against despair but in a vote of thanks. Sarah went through several creative phases in her short career, each building on the last yet quite distinct from it, as if she were unfolding a whole new artistic personality each time. The selection given here — whether in the main list or as appendages to the catalogue notes and tributes — amounts to only a tiny fraction of her total achievement. Cécile Menon, as curator, faced a large and complicated task in choosing images from a vast archive and preparing them for the web, so this is merely a preliminary outline, meticulous yet by no means exhaustive. The whole space could easily have been devoted just to the young prodigy's first exultant outburst of mature painting, which somehow incorporated the whole European artistic heritage that her loving parents, who always knew that they had genius on their hands, made sure that she saw as part of her education.

We could equally have given the whole space just to her paintings done in the Australian desert, where she went on a prize expedition not long after I first met her, and from which she returned with yet another vision of colour and form to transform the visions she had already had. Her neo-pop phase travelled back through time to make a raid on the Sixties that left the original looking like a mere progenitor. Her illustrations to her father's books could fill a gallery all by themselves. And you always knew, until the cruel shock of her disappearance, that there would be more to come. All we can do at this point is to give a hint. The original works are in collections all over the world and some of them are already in museums. How her parents and the rest of her family survived her loss is a question for them. The public question if for the modern history of British art. How can it do without her? But we wouldn’t even be asking if she had not been so clearly bound for distinction in a career that is still going on in her absence.

— London, July 2008

Our thanks to: Frederic Raphael, Stephen Raphael, William Boyd, Andrew Motion, Daniel Day-Lewis, J.P. Masclet, Agnew's Gallery, and Mary Miller and Frankie Somerset at the Marlborough Gallery (London).