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Untitled (Aurora leaving Cephalus)

© Estate of Bob Thompson. Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, New York. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

Untitled (Aurora leaving Cephalus)

Artist: Bob Thompson (Born in Louisville, Kentucky, 1937 – 1966)
Culture: American
Date: 1964
Medium: Oil on canvas
12 x 16 inches (30.5 x 40.6 cm)
Classification: Painting
Credit Line: Gift of Paula Cooper in memory of Raymond D. Nasher
Label Text:Bob Thompson was a figurative painter known for his bold and energetic compositions. He combined expressionistic color reminiscent of Matisse with European classical narratives and a personal symbolism. He frequently drew inspiration from the Old Masters and reinterpreted their paintings with his own palette, interests and motifs. Thompson was deeply immersed in New York arts and music circles, befriending artists as well as jazz musicians such as Ornette Coleman. The free-thinking artistic and counter-cultural influences of these contemporaries can be found in his unique body of work.

This painting was created in 1964 in New York, before Thompson and his wife returned to live in Europe in 1965.

Thompson adapted this subject from a painting by the French artist Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), which depicts the classical myth of Aurora and Cephalus. Aurora (also called Eos) was the goddess of the dawn, and she was enamored of, and tried to seduce, Cephalus, who was already married. In Poussin's version Aurora is embracing Cephalus, as the personified figures of the Hours drop flowers to remind her of her obligation to mount her chariot and bring the light of day to the earth. Thompson made numerous changes from Poussin's work, dramatically altering the setting and color scheme. He eliminated a number of figures and details, including Aurora's chariot on the left, but retained her horses. In Thompson's painting the flowers become transformed into his personally symbolic birds. The suggestion of a fertility ritual dominates the composition, overshadowing the recumbent, embracing figures of Aurora and Cephalus on the right.

Exactly how Thompson knew Poussin's painting is not clear, as it is a lesser-known, early work of the artist from a private collection in York, England. It had been reproduced as a black-and-white photograph by Anthony Blunt in a 1949 Burlington Magazine article. Thompson may have been introduced to a reproduction of the painting by his close friend Stephen Pepper, who published on the early Roman work of Poussin. Pepper accompanied Bob and Carole Thompson to London aboard the Queen Elizabeth in 1961 on their first trip to Europe.

Object number: 2007.7.2