The Hidden Hand New works by John Whalley at Vose Galleries

A Personal Story

By Marcia L. Vose, Vice-President

In 2016, to honor the galleries’ 175th year in business, we asked our contemporary realist artists to create a work of art that reflected our history. The task couldn’t have been more fitting to the sensibilities of John Whalley.

John Whalley in his studio, Damariscotta, Maine.

He combed the gallery archives and workshop for old artifacts and composed an incredible montage of the galleries’ early days. To set off the background, he used the color palette of John Joseph Enneking (1841-1916), the leading New England landscape artist around the turn of the nineteenth century. The two envelopes relay the galleries’ physical history, one with the original Providence address where the gallery was founded in 1841; and the second, from the 1880s, when Seth M. Vose (1831-1910) began his first foray into Boston at the Studio Building, located at the corner of Tremont and Bromfield streets, the headquarters for early Boston artists.

Photograph of Vose Galleries, Copley Square, circa 1930.

An old photo of the gallery dates to a time when the galleries were located in Boston’s Copley Square from 1926 – 1962. Although none in the Vose clan painted, Whalley chose to reference the artists that we represented with brushes. He then painted a wonderful old hammer (still in use!) along with the tacking nails that held a canvas to the stretcher. And finally John chose the elegant and delicate “V” that represented the business in the early part of the twentieth century.

'Recollections,' 2016, collection of Bill and Marcia Vose.

When my husband Bill and I saw the results of John’s assignment, titled Recollections, we were awestruck and knew immediately that the painting had to come home with us. It now hangs in our dining room with nineteenth century paintings, in concert with images of our family’s ancestors. We are happily reminded on a daily basis of John Whalley and his singular talents.

An Introduction

By Marcia L. Vose, Vice-President

In this, our third solo exhibition of John Whalley’s paintings, we are again dazzled by the artist’s ability to infuse everyday objects with a deeper meaning.

The artist writes, "I enjoy juxtaposing different objects and their backgrounds to create relationships that tell at least part of a story, leaving part to the viewer’s imagination."

- John Whalley, An Inner Light, 2005

John continues to follow this vision and explains what has inspired him in each of his paintings in this exhibition. A viewer can sense the history implicit in these objects that shine with an inner glow that transcends representation. His figural work defines not only the subject, but also a storyline.

It is unusual that a visual artist can so clearly write about his artistic visions and philosophy. We hope our viewers enjoy, as we have, looking closely into his compositions for their deeper meaning.

N.B. Don’t miss John Whalley’s tale of adventure, painting a commissioned work for the Puratos Sourdough Library (yes, the bread!) in Saint Vith, Belgium. Still inspired by the bread theme (he loves to bake), he also painted a couple of special examples for this exhibition.

(Image, left: photograph of John Whalley's studio)

The Hidden Hand

By John Whalley

As a collector of older, vintage objects from a time now gone, I recognize that so much can remain hidden. I look through my hundreds of old photographs of classes of schoolchildren dressed in another time’s clothing, high leather boots, and I wonder. Are those two twins? Is that boy off to one side with darker skin a new arrival from a far away country, perhaps still learning the language? The eyes of some are bright with promise, other’s are sullen, sad. Some have new boots, some bare feet. What are the stories there in those young lives looking out at us, hidden from us now that they are long gone? And besides, the photographs, with few exceptions, bear no names. Only questions.

John and Ellen Whalley in the studio, Damariscotta, Maine.

And the other orphaned objects that populate the many shelves and drawers of my studio similarly hold secrets, evidencing the many hidden hands that created them, used them, discarded them. They have arrived here from very long journeys. My wife Ellen and I found them in various places - flea markets, antique shops, yard sales, the nearby seashore or the riverbank behind our home. In some way, each was chosen because something about the object seemed to belong to us, to this studio. We curate it by intuition, responding, I suppose, to the story we sense that particular object "wants” to tell. We’ve gotten better over the years at listening to that small voice, more discriminating. As we run out of space on shelves, we cull our collection of earlier choices to make room for those more deserving of a place.

In these twelve paintings I have chosen a small number of these objects, placed them on assorted stages, under varied lights, perhaps with a piece of fruit or two, to allow them to reveal the evidences of the hidden hands that have made them just so. Some hands were their creator’s - putting great care into their forms and proportions, the labels that adorned them, patterns printed on their surfaces, colors chosen. Then there were the untold number of hands that held them, used them, and left their mark on them, some for over the past hundred years or more. From those first to touch these once-newly created objects, to the flea marketer who accepted our bartered price to make them ours, a relay race took place, with these things the unknowing batons passed on to us. We love having here in the studio such a rich repository of things bringing with them the presence of days and ages far past.

Perhaps the reason they seem so meaningful to us is that fact that unlike the vast majority of their contemporaries, this select company of ours has survived.

G. K. Chesterton pondered this quality of things while remembering the book Robinson Crusoe in his work Orthodoxy: “Robinson Crusoe is a man on a small rock with a few comforts just snatched from the sea: the best thing in the book is simply the list of things saved from the wreck. The greatest of poems is an inventory. Every kitchen tool becomes ideal because Crusoe might have dropped it in the sea. It is a good exercise, in empty or ugly hours of the day, to look at anything, the coal-scuttle or the book-case, and think how happy one could be to have brought it out of the sinking ship on to the solitary island. But it is a better exercise still to remember how all things have had this hair-breadth escape: everything has been saved from a wreck.”

So this small group of still lifes began not only in saving these beautiful objects from the wreck of some anonymous fate, from having been “dropped into the sea”, but in presenting them to the viewer in such a way as to reveal their intrinsic beauty, put there not just by the “hidden hand” that created them, but the myriad of “hidden handlers” that aged them and passed them on to us through time.

Glass Bottles

"Between Ellen and me, we have well over a hundred vintage aqua-blue bottles of various shapes and sizes. Some we've acquired in local antique stores or flea markets, others we have unearthed from the riverbank behind our home."

- John Whalley

(Image, right: photograph of John Whalley's studio)

'Blue Bottles,' 2019, egg tempera on panel, 14 1/4 x 16 inches, signed lower left: 'JOHN WHALLEY,' $10,500

"For 'Blue Bottles' I've chosen these two aqua-blue bottles, set up on an old ledger from the 1800's, with the original wallpaper from the same era, papering an upstairs room here in our home. The play of soft colors drew me to this composition, as did the green-blue of the bottles, which reminded me of the color of the ocean's waves as they overturn themselves on the nearby Maine coast."

- John Whalley

'Whelk Shell with Bottles,' 2019, egg tempera on panel, 15 x 20 inches, signed lower left: 'JOHN WHALLEY,' $12,000

"I’ve always loved the shape of whelk shells with their mathematical perfection, tracing the form of the golden mean, the divine proportion. In this painting, I wanted to also show the way sunlight illuminates the shell’s interior, making it a glowing receptacle of light, much the way that it is a captor of the ocean waves, if you put it to you ear and listen. Three bottles stand guard over it, their sizes somewhat echoing the shell's proportion and spiral progression."

- John Whalley

'Bottle and Can,' 2019, egg tempera on panel, 13 7/8 x 13 3/4 inches, signed lower right: 'JOHN WHALLEY,' $9,000

"I have a collection of amber medicine bottles, and chose this one to pose with one of my more unusual oil cans. I set them atop a slate tile as two actors on a small stage, dressed in red tones, against a smoky background."

- John Whalley

'The Ladies,' 2019, oil on panel, 20 x 30 inches, signed lower right: 'JOHN WHALLEY,' $16,500

"At the nearby Montsweag Flea Market one Sunday, Ellen found this photograph of eight ladies from the late 1800s. They looked strong and proud in their white dresses and we wondered what their story was and why they had posed that day. They became the backdrop for these two bottles from an apothecary shop, standing at attention, reflecting the light from another day, allowing four of the eight ladies to peer through its powdered glass sides."

- John Whalley


An avid baker, John Whalley's favorite bread is sourdough. Last year he painted a commission for the Puratos Sourdough Library in Saint-Vith, Belgium, which is devoted to the conservation and promotion of different sourdough types from all over the world. Starting at minute 2:45, the Four Days to Happiness, video, below, is set in Whalley's home and features the presentation of the finished commission, Bread of Life, to a baker/representative of the library.

(Image, right: photograph of John Whalley in his studio arranging the composition for Bread of Life)

The progress of 'Bread of Life,' collection of the Puratos Sourdough Library, Belgium.
'Sourdough,' 2018, oil on panel, 18 x 24 inches, signed lower right: 'JOHN WHALLEY,' $12,000

"I’ve always enjoyed baking bread, and especially sourdough bread, made with the fermenting qualities of the naturally occurring yeasts found in the air of our environment. I made this loaf of sourdough from a starter I cultivated here at our home, and decided to paint it along with an old enameled plate, coffee pot and cup in a setting of greenish and tawny tones. The soft shadows and reflected light and colors made a fitting setting for this powdered loaf."

- John Whalley

'Graniteware and Bread,' 2019, oil on canvas on panel, 18 1/2 x 20 inches, signed lower left: 'JOHN WHALLEY,' $12,500

"This blue graniteware coffee pot, paired with a translucent aqua soda bottle, rimed with a rainbow of oxidation, sit over two small sourdough rolls and an ivory-handled butter knife, repaired with twine. For me, this still life was all about the soft light that falls on and penetrates the different surfaces and textures, and the quietness of the moment."

- John Whalley

'Sourdough and White Pitcher,' 2019, egg tempera on panel, 18 x 24 inches, signed lower left: 'JOHN WHALLEY,' $14,500

"I posed this beautiful loaf of sourdough bread with two rolls, an old bone-handled butter knife and pitcher. The pitcher sat out of direct light and picked up the buttery colors of the setting of the old yellowed cutting board, while the crisp loaf of bread is glanced by the afternoon sunlight. I enjoyed describing the cool blues and violets of the knife blade and sourdough’s shadows which were in such contrast with the otherwise warm glow of the painting."

- John Whalley

Antique Tins

"Antique cans and tins' rich assortment of beautiful colors, shapes and patinas provide me with a broad palette of subjects when composing my still life paintings. I love the labels which often contain information and substances from days long since past. I often find that my collection of tins has small “families” of similar shapes or colors, and let me add them as “variations on a theme” within a composition. The cylindrical and rectangular shapes of my tins make them wonderful objects to describe light and reflection with, and the quality of light is a major theme in my work."

(Image, right: photograph of John Whalley's studio)

'Blue Line,' 2019, oil on panel, 17 1/2 x 21 1/2 inches, signed lower left: 'JOHN WHALLEY,' $12,500

"In this composition, I set an old carpenter's blue chalk-line atop a can of Vaporia pipe tobacco. Next to them, I set two bottles from an apothecary shop with their dusty and well-handled surfaces catching the light as they sit against the shadows of a shelf. Both the druggist or the carpenter may have spent their days at their trade with pipe in mouth, and surrounded by the sweet smell of tobacco as they worked."

- John Whalley

'Liniment and Lavender,' egg tempera on panel, 16 x 20 inches, signed lower right: 'JOHN WHALLEY,' $12,000

"Late afternoon sunlight falls across a bottle of Lavender Oil and Bone Liniment, while a pear sits atop the tin of bicarbonate. I chose these objects for the qualities of light their surfaces recorded and the shadows’ shapes they would cast. I thought of this group as the cast of some opera poised in a moment of drama."

- John Whalley

'Lunch Tin and Apples,' 2019, oil on panel, 11 1/8 x 14 inches, signed lower right: 'JOHN WHALLEY,' $8,500

"This old lunch tin seemed a perfect companion to this portrait of two apples I picked from our small orchard. I delighted in trying to capture the blush of the apples and the rich reds that emanated through the alizarin and dark purple skin of the larger apple, and to render the leaves that were glanced by the sunlight. The old blue paint-solvent box echoed that lunch box’s colors, but with a bit of a greener, grayer tone."

- John Whalley

'Colman's,' 2019, egg tempera on panel, 14 x 21 inches, 17 x 24 inches, signed lower left: 'JOHN WHALLEY,' $12,000

"I posed this trio of yellow tins, variations on a theme, in the warm light of an afternoon window sill. They once held mustard, bicarbonate and tea, and wore labels of beautiful design. Standing guard is a long-empty, thick-walled bottle that once held olives. I loved the way the light cast dark shadows and brought out the surface qualities of the glass bottle and paper labels."

- John Whalley


"As time goes on, I am going further in exploring texture. Old books as background 'stages' on which objects are posed has become a very exciting theme for me in recent years, as I love books and especially the textures of old worn 19th century books."

- John Whalley, An Inner Light, 2005

(Image, left: photograph of John Whalley's studio)

'Brass Lock,' 2019, oil on panel, 20 x 16 inches, signed lower right: 'JOHN WHALLEY,' $11,500

"I must have over 100 vintage locks of all types and colors. This one appeals to me very much with the warm yellows and reddish browns of its brass surface and the rich patina recording the many years of being held and used by countless hands. I set it, appropriately, upon an old book, itself having a surface telling of a long history of being held, as the stories within were read and “unlocked” by the reader long ago."

- John Whalley

'Bookends,' 2019, oil on panel, 11 x 14 inches, signed lower right: 'JOHN WHALLEY,' $8,000

"This leather bound book from the 1800s is one of hundreds I’ve collected over the years. It is held up in this pose by two handsome Basque pears before a large wooden tea box from Formosa. I loved how the sidelight glances the subjects, allowing their textures and rich colors to be seen in this quiet moment."

- John Whalley

'Household Company,' 2019, oil on panel, 16 x 24 inches, signed lower left: 'JOHN WHALLEY,' $13,000

"I loved the orange tones embedded in the worn surfaces of this tin of household cleanser. It seemed to pair nicely with the warm greens and ochres of the two Basque pears that sit atop the vintage leathered volume. Underneath them is an old varnish box whose blue surface becomes the sea and the book a raft keeping its huddled passengers afloat."

- John Whalley

'The Hidden Hand' will be viewable May 18th - June 29th, 2019.

Vose Galleries

238 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02116 • (617) 536-6176 • info@vosegalleries.com • www.vosegalleries.com

Editor: Marcia L. Vose; Digital Catalog Design: Catharine L. Holmes, Photography: John F. Whalley and Tyler M. Prince; Writing: Marcia L. Vose and John F. Whalley. © 2019 Vose Galleries, LLC. Rights reserved. The right to copy, photograph or reproduce the works of art identified herein is reserved by John F. Whalley.
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