My Favourite Painting: Robert Adam

Architect Robert Adam chooses a portrait that brings a modern twist to one of the Western civilisation's oldest stories.

Robert Adam on Penelope by David Ligare

‘Although she is seated on a Classical klismos, wearing an ancient-Greek chiton, this picture of the daughter of a friend of the artist is clearly modern. In the words of David Ligare: “In Homer’s Odyssey Penelope was a brave, resourceful and patient woman. She represents the potential for honourable action for women of any period.”

‘Bathed in the evening light of northern California, the simple composition and fine painting gives it a serene and transcendent beauty that, like Classicism itself, can speak to any age.’

Robert Adam is a Classical architect and urban designer who recently established Robert Adam Architectural Consultancy. His latest book, Time for Architecture, was published in March.

John McEwen on David Ligare and this work

David Ligare was born in Oak Park, Illinois, in the US. His father was a research analyst, his mother ‘basically read books’. He trained at the Art Centre College of Design in Los Angeles.

At 18, when staying at Cadaqués, Spain, he spent an afternoon with Salvador Dalí. ‘Dalí kindly showed me his working process. He was a wonderful technician.’

Mr Ligare rejected Surrealism for what he called ‘foundational art’, based on the architecture, literature and philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome. His guiding star remains the sculptor Polykleitos of Argos (5th century BC). He also cites such architect friends as Robert Adam and Leon Krier, Poundbury’s master planner, and has ‘had the honour of being invited to Highgrove by HRH’, with whom he has corresponded.

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He lives in Carmel Valley, California, and regards his concern with light, often compared to that of Greece, as identifiably Californian. He works from photographs of the evening ‘golden hour’, a time that implies ‘a sense

of the passage from day into night, life into death — Et in Arcadia Ego’.

Penelope evokes the wife of Odysseus, hero of the Trojan War, who never doubted her husband lived, despite his 20-year absence. ‘It seemed a daring thing to do in 1980; a new archaeology which literally put Classicism in a new light. Or, as Heraclitus [Greek philosopher, about 500 BC] said, “you can never step into the same river twice”.’

Mr Ligare has work in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Uffizi in Florence and Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, Madrid. He has a solo exhibition at Hirsch & Adler, New York, scheduled for 2021.

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