Charles Mahoney (1903-1968):
Study of a Sunflower, late 1940s
Framed (ref: 547)
Oil over pencil on board, prepared with a pink gesso ground
15 x 12 in. (38 x 30.5 cm)
Provenance: acquired directly from the artist’s daughter (ref. no. N21a III)
Literature: Martin Postle, The Art of the Garden, exh. cat.,Tate Britain, 2004, p. 118
Llewellyn, Sacha, and Paul Liss. Portrait of an Artist. Liss Llewellyn, 2021, p.66.
Mahoney’s unbridled enthusiasm for plants was shared with Edward Bawden, Evelyn Dunbar, Geoffrey Rhoades and John Nash, all of whom swapped cuttings with each other by post. The artist’s daughter recalls that he ‘particularly liked to grow and paint tall, statuesque plants;Annual Sunflowers excelled in this respect. In addition they had handsome heads, with great twisted necks resembling a Celtic torque’ (Elizabeth Bulkeley, email to Paul Liss, 2 February 2007).
Mahoney was particularly fond of the giant sunflower, Helianthus annuus, capable of outgrowing a man within a season. He made many colour and black and white studies of this species, capturing the convoluted energy of their rough stems and massive heads, and the ragged angles of their great leaves.
This composition shows the artist's back garden - as seen from his studio (a garden shed) - with a view onto the roof tops of neighbouring houses.
Tirzah Garwood records Mahoney's passion for Sunflowers in several amusing anecdotes recounted in Long Live Great Bardfield, (Fleece Press):
Charlie had a glass eye but I thought that on the whole it improved his appearance, giving an interesting and piratical look to a face that as nature intended it, might have belonged to a Sunday School superintendent or a postman' p. 100-101
Charlie Mahoney with Geoffrey Rhoades stayed for a long time and helped Edward with the garden. During the winter the four men had cleared the yard which was feet deep in years of rubbish. They unearthed all kinds of relics from the trade of past owners; it had been a girl's school and a saddler's and coffin maker's and there were pieces of coffin and piles of old harness which they burned in a huge pit which they had dug in the garden. Geoffrey Rhoades made a painting of the others working in the snow, Eric wearing a black and white striped football jersey..... In the Spring Mahoney supervised the digging and planting of the garden, insisting on two spits deep, and Edward with his usual thoroughness bought lavishly the best of everything interesting or unusual in the seed catalogue so that when we came back from Morecambe the garden was already quite changed.... p 133
'The next year Edward planted numerous sunflowers. There was a row along the wall by the lavatory and half way up the garden, the cream of the collection, a monstrous double sunflower grew to huge maturity. So large and so splendid was it that looking up to its vast centre I felt that I should never be satisfied with any future sunflower I might grow, this was the limit.
Such a large crop needs strong sticks to support it and what with the number of earwigs they contained and the unfriendly height they grew to, we felt that perhaps we had rather over-done it. Charlie Mahoney made drawings from the top of the ladder, one rather resented his continual presence outside the lavatory. p. 134
We are grateful to Simon Lawrence for assistance.