Alfred Joseph Moore's, The Quartet, a Painters Tribute to Music, 1868, is just that. The scene of four solemn looking musicians of a modern string quartet seated in a straight line with little more than three pieces of gauze and a leopard skin between them makes little sense to modern viewers. In its heyday though, when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1869, the painting "fired so many young brains with enthusiasm, which inspired so many sonnets, and funished so many aesthetic drawing rooms" (Asleson 100). For Moore, producing genuinely authentic ancient settings was of little importance; rather his goal was to produce graceful, elegant paintings without a subject. Known as the quintessential aesthetic painter, Alfred Moore's works sublimate everything to composition and a subdued color palette.

Moore sought to revive the formal qualities responsible for the beauty which the Greeks had drawn from nature and the human body. Moore was greatly influenced by Greek sculpture and Japanese art. In his biography on Moore, Robyn Asleson comments on Moore's extensive preparatory work. Like many of his contemporaries, as a young artist, Moore spent countless hours perfecting his understanding of the human body, studying both human models and ancient Greek sculpture. Each element of the composition was broken down and studied in detail. In this way, Moore would perfect a nude figure, create a cartoon of the sketch then transfer it onto the final surface. The drapery was then painted over the fully rendered nude body. By painting in this way, Moore enhanced the appearance of the drapery's transparency with the outlines of the ghostly body still appearing through the sheer fabric (Asleson 99). As seen in The Quartet, the pair of women on the far left stand together, interwoven by their limbs and drapery. This complex arrangement obtains clarity from the artist's complete realization of the nude figure beneath the transparent fabric (Asleson 99).

He was also an advocate of the late Victorian idea of "art for art's sake". — the concept that formal, aesthetic qualities must take prominence over moral or narrative content. His rhythmically posed figures, combined with ornamental accessories, were vehicles for the exploration of an abstract language of form, color, line and pattern. The compositions of his paintings were determined by a system of line arrangements devised by Moore. Led by his fascination with ideal geometry, Moore would determine the directions of prominent lines in the composition and then chart a series of parallel lines throughout the rest of the drawing. This "linear armature determined every element of Moore's compositions not only the positioning of the figures, but the placement of accessories and the shape size of the canvas, the distribution of the drapery folds, wall hangings and architectural elements" (Asleson 100). This system is easily seen in The Quartet, in which Moore contrasts the simple horizontal bands of the architecture with the irregular curves of the human bodies. To this basic arrangement he added a series of strong diagonals created principally by the bows and necks of the string instruments and the arms and legs of the figures. By extending these diagonals to their full length Moore produced the linear armature, which, analysis confirms, the lines and their points of intersection determine the positions and orientation of virtually every object in the painting (Asleson 100).

These meticulous preparations were then masked by an extraordinarily spontaneous manner of painting. Moore's methodical restriction of his color scheme probably owed something to Japanese prints, which characteristically employ a limited number of hues. But it was most likely decided by his line arrangement, which directed him in the placement of each pigment and the overall color balance (Asleson 99).

By using violins, a cello and a bass, instruments contemporary to his audience, Moore worked to ground his paintings in an actual sensory experience. In addition his preliminary studies of characteristic poses of "expert musicians" demonstrates his commitment to grounding idealism in actual observation of materials" (Asleson 100).

Discussion Questions

  1. When Quartet was first viewed, Asleson notes, that the fuller waists and large feet of the female figures surprised many of the viewers. Why would Moore have chosen to depict his subjects in this way?
  2. In his previous work, A Musician, Moore used an ancient instrument, the lyre. How would the inclusion of different instruments, specifically archaic ones have changed this painting?
  3. The critic F.G Stephen saw the figures themselves as the embodiment of the music, associating the women's graceful forms and flowing lines with "the sauve long sustained fluttering harmonies of the lighter order in music, while the graver more sedate and powerful poses of the men offer apt suggestions of the more serious elements of melody." With this in mind, compare Quartet with A Musician. Do the same roles apply?
  4. Moore once made the comment, "Anachronism is the Soul of Art". How does this apply to his paintings? Do you agree with Moore?

  5. Is this work purely decorative? Or does it serve other purposes?


Asleson, Robyn, Albert Moore, London : Phaidon Press, 2000

Last modified 23 April 2007