The studio

Introduction by Maurice Druon

<i>Arcade humaine</i>, 1963. Tempera, Collection particulière, USA.
Arcade humaine, 1963. Tempera, Collection particulière, USA.

"It has already been stated and often repeated that "the case of “Morgan-Snell existed; this would lead one to ask certain questions in relation to the artist, which remain unanswered. I wonder how it could be possible that a self-taught painter and sculptor could master these techniques to such a high degree. How could such a perfect knowledge of human anatomy, this masterful understanding of composition and accomplished sense of balance; these beautiful colours that remind us of, on the one hand, enameling, and on the other, of stained glass windows, be achieved?

Before painting a clothed subject, Morgan-Snell would begin by painting the unclothed subject; if the front part of a horse’s head were to be featured in the background of one of her frescoes, she would first have sketched in the whole horse and then removed it. This is also the way Ingres worked. The question is: how did she discover this technique and, more importantly, how did she learn to use it with so great a degree of confidence?

How is it possible that with such slender, smooth and neat hands - which one would have thought to be those of an idle person; that from this molded and decorated sitting room in a mansion on the Left Bank in Paris, where she set up her studio, could emerge these powerful paintings? Powerful by their size, their strength and their subject matter.

The contrast between the person which is Morgan-Snell and her work, between her daily personal appearance and her creations, is too strong for one not to be lead to a sense of surprise and would almost lead you to worry. Absolute contrasts coexist in her very being; the question should be asked if they constitute, for her, some kind of necessity? " An extract from the preface of the catalog written by Maurice Druon, a member of ‘l’Académie Française’, Minister of Cultural Affairs, on the occasion of the exhibition at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery (October to December,1971).

Sources of inspiration

<i>Paradise Lost</i>, tempera on canvas highlighted with  gold leaf 
Paradise Lost, tempera on canvas highlighted with  gold leaf 

In her work, Morgan-Snell has chosen to glorify the human body, stripped of anything that can give it a temporal nature. In an era where abstract art is in vogue she recentralises the Body, the figure, in Art.

Having spent her childhood in Brazil, she observed the moving musculature of black or mulatto working men, whose bare skin was exposed to the burning Brazilian sun whilst working in the plantations. She lived very much in touch with nature. She believed that animals hold an important role for Man, an idea often represented within her paintings; horses, unicorns, elephants and bulls who were all ‘friends’ of hers as a child. Birds have a very special symbolism to her; “birds - her fellow workers, her friends, and sometimes a little like her children." Through her work, she is seeking to rediscover what she would see as a child; for example the human body magnified by physical effort.

She devours epic writings: Homer, the Bible, Dante and Milton. Her mind is filled with mythological heroes. Once in Europe, she ignites before Michelangelo, Tintoretto and Tiepolo, she begins a collection of postcards of these artist’s works, grouped in albums, ready to be consulted at all times. She uses the classics to compose a hymn celebrating the beauty of the motion/ mobile human form, the sublimation of muscular movement punctuated by a Biblical sensuality. This artist’s inspiration is always backed by hard work. She has been her own master, but verified her discoveries by comparing them with those of the works of the Great Master’s from the past.

<i>The Bronze Age</i>, 1974. Oil and mixed media
The Bronze Age, 1974. Oil and mixed media
<i>The  Augean Stables,</i> 1975. Tempera
The  Augean Stables, 1975. Tempera

The studio

Morgan-Snell working in her studio on <i>The Virgin in the Temple</i>  mural for the Eglise de la Trinité
Morgan-Snell working in her studio on The Virgin in the Temple  mural for the Eglise de la Trinité

The conception behind her art: "The idea that arises in my mind cannot be grasped without effort on my part. Before being able to express on canvas the image that I have in my mind, I go through an incubation period often long and sometimes quite cruel. I struggle with fierce energy to try and dominate the painting materials, there comes a time where the work acquires an independence of its own, it tells its own story, radiates from its own light. I then feel that my painting no longer belongs to me and that it is finished."

Both perfectionist and precise, Morgan-Snell consistently researches her chosen theme. Her work is essentially devoted to Man, her paintings transcribe the importance of him/her, half-man/half-god, Man must conquer nature, dominate the forces of darkness.

The way she works : Her studio is clear and bright. Birds jump about freely. Morgan-Snell loves birds: parrots, budgerigars, sparrows come willingly toperch on her shoulder while she is working. Their song is for her, music; a music she needs when working, "their song ushers me into a kind of conducive trance of creativity," she says. Several statues are scattered about her studio and paintings on which she is currently working await on their easels.

Life models: "While we transpose, we idealise. A model, for me, is a starting point. I start from there to express an idea. The model is an accessory in some way. One male and one female model have sufficed to create all of my works so far."

The figures: Gaston Villeberdeau wrote of Morgan-Snell’s work that the figures she depicts are " Titans, Olympians, with muscles of steel, well-enveloped and endowed athletic women, chubby and round toddlers." She is an artist obsessed with movement and who idealises the masses, with this she worships the lines that join together into profusion of constant shortcuts, with an airy perspective where she intertwines both the sacred and the profane. This is a sculptor’s painting, which helps to explain the powerful and lyrical aspects of the figures, the gestures that show how the muscles stand out, the contrasting positions; bold but always harmonious.

The figures fill the canvas in an almost compact and neat manner; representing the fullness of the human body that the artist wants to portray and glorify. This glorification is emphasised by avalanches of flowers and rays of light that weave a constant and contrasting backdrop to the works.

From 1969 Morgan-Snell adopted the idea of transforming the figures in emptiness, as if they were floating free from the laws of gravity. Morgan-Snell said: "The figures that you encounter in some of my compositions are free from the Earth and its encumbrances, relieved of any material support, swept out into the endless ebb and flow of life, as indicated by the cosmic lines that crisscross my drawings, these figures evoke the eternal human, Man being purified and liberated by art.”

Composition, pencil sketch
Composition, pencil sketch
Work in progress
Work in progress

The subject matter

 <i>The Horses of Alcinous, king of the Phoenicians,</i> 1966. Tempera
 The Horses of Alcinous, king of the Phoenicians, 1966. Tempera

According to the artist "mythology creates a link between Man and the Divine."

Given her temperament, Morgan-Snell was completely at home when inspired by great epic writings such as those of Homer, Dante or Milton, who had accompanied her since her childhood. The Odyssey provided her with many themes for her drawings, as had Calypso’s nymph, which she painted as a young woman with brown skin, a well arched back, and elegant yet sober gestures. Elsewhere, Morgan-Snell evokes Ulysses attached to the mast of his ship in order to avoid being seduced by the mermaid’s chants. Mythological figures, be they Ulysses, Telemachus, Alcinous, Nausicaa or Calypso are not only provide the opportunity to magnify beautiful bodies, but pay tribute to the golden coloured flesh of the warriors with their firmly defined muscles, these fleshy figures are also very symbolic.

These images of men and women of prodigious destinies represent Man through the ages, races, backgrounds, desires, joys and pain. Numerous studies with various titles: Spring, May Nights, Adolescents, Slaves to the Sun, The Daughters of Piabanha, and Maternal Strength testify, in this regard, to the artist’s irresistible tendency towards symbolism. In illustrating Dante's frightful hallucinations of his walk through Hell or describing his dazzling ascension to Heaven, Morgan-Snell does not keep either the satirical description or the theological meditation (nor the theosophical one) of the poet. The Divine Comedy is a kind of laboratory where the human soul is subject to all the anguish and every emotion imaginable. In these scenes borrowed from Dante, Morgan-Snell gives her figures a human and emblematic attitude.

She also addresses the Biblical theme of Adam and Eve, however, without respecting their traditional iconography; Eve, for example, picks up a fruit from the ground with one hand, and with the other holds a hoop around which is wrapped a snake, the hoop symbolizing Satan’s perfect and misleading promise. Her face, with her eyes shut seems to be savouring interior illusions, and with her crumbling body, the public can feel a faltering and wavering Eve who is already lost. Morgan-Snell has a particular talent for religious paintings such as La Pieta, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, the Ave Maria and the murals of the Trinité, “The Presentation at the Temple” and “the Virgin at Pentecost”.

<i>The Pieta</i>, 1974. Tempera
The Pieta, 1974. Tempera

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