My Favourite Painting: John Donald

'Many of Noel's works pulsate with energy, especially the effect of wind through trees and across the local rolling downs'

Nocturne, 2010, by Noel White (b. 1939), 20in by 29in, Collection: John and Cynthia Donald

John Donald says:

‘My interest in English landscape drawing and painting was renewed several years ago when I chanced to live next door to an artist who, to my mind, has continued to progress the tradition with wonderful colour, form and emotive force. Many of Noel’s works pulsate with energy, especially the effect of wind through trees and across the local rolling downs, in which, occasionally, formalised birds and beasts are to be glimpsed. Grinding lapis lazuli into pigment is hardly a new process: between 1303 and 1305, Giotto used vast amounts to paint the skies of his frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. His patron, Scrovegni, was obviously very wealthy, as fine-quality lapis lazuli was and still is a most expensive material.’

John Donald is a goldsmith and jeweller. His autobiography, Precious Statements, is published to coincide with the Goldsmiths’ Fair (until October 4); 24 of his pieces made between 1958 and 2002 are on show at the Goldsmiths’ Hall until December 18 (after October 4, by appointment only)

John McEwen comments:

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Noel White writes: ‘This picture does not refer to a specific woodland, but is an imaginative encounter and memory of the noiseless and skilled flight of an owl. The most pleasure that came from painting the picture was to see the precise flight of the bird gliding effortlessly through the trees. The life of the picture has to do with the contrast of the restricted movement of the trees and the complete freedom of the bird.’

One day, Mr White saw some off-cuts of lapis lazuli in John Donald’s studio, which Mr Donald gave him to grind down into powder for use in his watercolours. This picture is similar in that it uses French ultramarine, manganese blue and cobalt blue to reach for the effect of lapis.

The artist was born in London, where his father was a civil servant. His mother was brought up in India and never forgot its colours and the view of the Himalayas from her Darjeeling convent. ‘She carried a sense in her of paradise from these early impressions, which she may unwittingly have imparted to me. There is an aspect of my work that represents a paradise from which we are excluded: the pictures, you might say, are ways in to a glimpse of that paradise, which is there before us every day in the world about us yet, in its beauty, mysteriously remote.’

Mr White lives in East Sussex, has taught at a number of leading London art schools and particularly admires Kandinsky and, in British art, David Jones. He has exhibited with Mr Donald and abroad in Denmark, Russia and Israel.