Alastair Dacey [NRP 2021] : Study for Sympatheia in grisaille, 2021.


SAL record control number: 111418 ;

Record level: Item ;

Record type: Movable work ;


Work title: Study for Sympatheia in grisaille [from curator] ;

Alternate work titles:
2021 : Study for Sympatheia in grisaille [from curator] ;

Work date: 2021  [from year of exhibition] ;

Work creator: Alastair Dacey [NRP 2021] ;

Work medium: Oil on canvas mounted on panel ;
Work dimensions: 24 x 10 inches [unframed] ; 28 x 14 x 1-1/2 inches [framed] ;

Inscribed / signed front:
Location: At lower right.
Dated?: No.
Text: ‘A Dacey’.


SAL category: Oil ;
SAL sub-category: Allegory ; figures ; nudes ;

Archives of American Art subjects:

Description of work:

I remember the dignity, careful appointments and reserved scale of the Salmagundi Library. While I worked on my design, I asked four basic questions about how a mural might relate to the room:
1) What is apt for the room’s theme and size, the viewing distance and perspective?
2) Should the two door panels make one design or should each panel be its own self contained design?
3) How far should the design tilt toward realism and how far toward simplification and style? Should the mural be more trompe-l’œil or more flat and stylized to visually support the surface of the door?
4) How ornamental and elaborate should the mural be given the decor and scale of the setting?

My design explores senses and dispositions that undergird learning and scholarly pursuits —‘a wild dedication of ourselves to unpath’d waters, undream’d shores.’ -Shakespeare
The Scene: A mythical landscape at nightfall unifies both door panels. The stars are beginning to appear over mountains, referencing the universal wonder, grandeur and mystery of nature. The glint of a stream weaving through both panels, reflecting the light of the stars, completes the stage set our two muses share.

The Muses:
Whether to be contemporary, escape the stuffy and crowded pantheon of muses or to just have an extra bit of freedom, I made up my own muses.
When thinking of appropriate muses for a place of research and learning, I quickly landed on the dispositions of curiosity and empathy. A consultation with a specialist of all things Ancient Greek produced the two Greek words that most accurately match the concepts of curiosity and empathy.

Philomatheia – Lover of wisdom and learning. With her inquiring glance she subtly personifies an alert curiosity and receptivity. What is soon to be learned she first senses and wants to explore.
To the lower left of Philomatheia grows a Clematis flower. The clematis symbolizes mental beauty, and in this case, the mental beauty that blossoms with awareness, curiosity and an open mind.

Sympatheia – Affected by like feelings with a sympathy akin to empathy, she bears the weight of other’s feeling, circumstance and experience. She is the understanding knowledge of the other.
To Sympatheia’s lower right grows a white Chrysanthemum, which symbolizes truth. In this case, the truth that can only be comprehended when escaping the self and bearing the weight and responsibility of mutual interdependence.

Panel Titles – Both door designs have a decorative panel at bottom with the corresponding muse name in Greek (contemporary). You will notice the two grisailles use the same decorative shape. I tried two different shapes for the color studies. I’m leaning toward the rounded design but am open to suggestions.
*In a final version I would use Times Roman as the font. In these studies I lettered freehand.

Aesthetic Choices:
The Figure: The clean and pure human figure won out over drapery. I have depicted both muses nude. This choice allowed me to carefully pose and design each gesture so that each figure expresses the theme – intellectual curiosity and empathy bearing a weight respectively.

Border: Each panel has a thin border of gold paint to help separate it and set it off from the dark wood of the door. The grey surrounding the grisailles and the white around the color studies are not part of the design, but would be the dark wood of the door.

Viewing Distance: The width of the library does not allow for viewing the door’s panels from any great distance. And the doors are modest in size. This suggested to me that the design needed to be delicate and intimate enough to be enjoyed up close, while not so detailed, ornate or architectural as to look too grand or out of place.

Handling: My design expresses form in places and stays flat and decorative in others. I used restraint to create a more shallow relief effect, wanting to stay away from the three dimensional realism of an easel painting. Instead my design plays with the pattern of shapes and gestures across the door’s surface with select suggestions of form.

Space and Color: My design complements the busy-ness of the books that surround the doors by creating a more spacious and calm place to visually breath. To be sure the mural projects out from the doorframe set in with dark wood on three sides, I used large sweeping shapes, contrast and for color; earth golds and reds and vibrant blues supported by a cast of neutrals.

Please note: I worked on each panel side by side but painted them on different surfaces so that I could try out different ideas and poses on either door. I did take the spacing of the doors in to account but may not have placed them exactly right in the photos.

I have submitted several studies showing you different steps and parts of my proposal. They are:
– preliminary charcoal drawings that show where ideas started
– landscape references for the background (to scale)
– complete grisailles of each panel with detail pictures (to scale)
– color studies of each panel with detail pictures (to scale)
– concept/context sketches placing the design in the library setting, viewed straight on and from an angle

2021 Alastair Dacey [NRP 2021], the artist .

Exhibition history:
2021 SCNY Allegory today : the library commission November 8-19.

References / citations:



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Record birth date:
November 3, 2021

Last updated: November 6, 2021 at 16:05 pm