Peter Shackleton


Peter Shackleton was around twenty-eight years old when he painted this self-portrait. With its mixture of diffidence and deadpan self-assurance, it is a timeless young-man’s self-portrayal. With his big, dark eyes, full lips, slim features, thick mop of black hair and open-necked shirt and black sweater, there is an echo perhaps of John Minton’s semi-idealising portrayals of young men, and a resemblance to the romantic self-portrayals of other 1950s artists, such as the Frenchman Bernard Buffet in his self-portrait of 1954, now in the Tate.

Shackleton has taken a risk in choosing a pale green background, and then imbuing the pinkish face with a similar greenish hue. The result just avoids being sickly, but accentuates an impression of almost painful sensitiveness.

The picture is typical of other works by Shackleton at this time, in its use of painterly impasto, and its tendency to isolate the figure against a stark, monochromatic background. However, it is much more realistic than his contemporaneous pictures, such as Italian Birdseller, Clown with Dog and Pedlar with Children, peopled by melancholic, childlike figures with moonfaces and spindly limbs. Ruth Borchard, who bought Shackleton’s self-portrait for twenty-one guineas in 1961, kept a copy of the invitation to Shackleton’s one-man show at London’s Crane Kalman Gallery in 1959. This illustrates, in black-and-white, the painting, Landscape with Bridge, in which trees and flowers are at once playfully and stringently simplified into semi-abstract forms (rather as in a contemporary painting by Alan Reynolds) against a chalky, plain backdrop.

Born in Great Harwood, Lancashire in 1933, Peter Shackleton studied at Accrington School of Art and Liverpool College of Art. At the time of his 1950 Crane Kalman show, he was teaching at Blackburn School of Art.