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Bridget Riley - Red, blue, turquoise, yellow, black and white, 1981

Bridget Riley

Red, blue, turquoise, yellow, black and white, 1981

Gouache: 28.5(h) x 24.3(w) in / 72.4(h) x 61.6(w) cm

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BX 191



Born London 1931


Red, blue, turquoise, yellow, black and white 1981


Signed, dated and inscribed lower left and right: Red, Blue, Turquoise, Yellow / Black and White

Bridget Riley ‘81

Gouache on paper:

Image: 22 ¾ x 19 7/8 in / 57.8 x 50.4 cm

Sheet: 28 ½ x 24 ¼ in / 72.4 x 61.6 cm

Frame size: 31 x 26 5/8 x 2 in / 78.7 x 67.6 x 5.1 cm



Richard Salmon Gallery, London, acquired from the artist

Karsten Schubert, London

Private collection, UK



1980 marked a breakthrough for Bridget Riley, signalling a new direction, palette and structure, as well as the move to painting in oils. A trip to Egypt during the winter of 1979-80, the museum at Cairo and the ancient tombs at Luxor, inspired an Egyptian palette of powerful colours, whose brilliance necessitated a return to a simplified formal structure: the neutral stripe. The uniform precision of Riley’s decisive design and immaculate finish enables the uninterrupted interaction of colours and the fleeting visual sensations they create. Like a passage of music, Riley carefully composes colour chords across the paper using red, blue, turquoise and yellow, punctuated by accents of black and white to establish the rhythm and provide pause. Riley’s arrangement of fresh, bright colours animates the visual field and entrances the active spectator, each hue interacting with those adjacent and percieved according to their surroundings. Though she initially chose form, Riley continues to work with colour as a medium, ‘which I believe to be more precise because it is closer to our experience of the real world. Unstable and incalculable, it is also rich and comforting. For a painter it is an ideal vehicle because it can be both a revelation and merely the surface of things.’[1]


In order to better understand the full significance of this trip to Egypt in relation to Riley’s development as a painter, it is important to review her works from the early 1960s. In 1984, the artist considered how her earlier practice had stifled her audience, perhaps due to the singularity of the compositional elements she used, her work’s stark monochromaticity: ‘I discovered that I was painting in order to ‘make visible’. On one hand I had to make something which had this essential quality of precipitating itself as ‘surprise’ and, simultaneously, there was no way of knowing with what one was dealing until it existed…The black and white paintings which I did in the 1960s laid bare this circular process…I wanted to bring about some fresh way of seeing again what had already almost certainly been experienced, but which had been either dismissed or buried by the passage of time; that thrill of pleasure which sight itself reveals. Colour is the proper means for what I wanted to do because it is prone to inflections and inductions existing only through relationship; malleable yet tough and resilient.’[2] After this discussion on the necessary addition of colour as an important component in altering the wider perception of her work, Riley extends that with paintings such as the present work, colour is selected in multiples. As opposed to selecting a single colour, Riley rather creates tonal pairs, triads or groups of colour, that when placed together and considered as a collective, can act as ‘generators’ in the conduction of greater meaning: by this she explains, what can be seen through or via the painting. In this capacity, a symphony of responsive lines whose alternating coloured forms, here painted in a spectrum of turquoise, coquelicot-red, yellow and interspersing threads of black and white, are organised so that the eye travels over the surface in a way ‘parallel to the way it moves over nature. It should feel caressed and soothed, experience friction and ruptures, glide and drift.’[3] In Red, blue, turquoise, yellow, black and white, Riley manipulates a suggested simplicity of form in order to effectively deliver a strong, structured composition that confirms how her paintings exist purely on their own terms.



Bridget Riley, Luxor, 1982

Oil on linen: 22.3.5 x 197.5 cm

Glasgow Museums Research Centre (GMRC)




Born London 1931


Born in London in 1931, Bridget Riley spent most of her childhood in Cornwall near Padstow in a cottage with her mother, aunt and younger sister, her father being away in the armed forces during the War.  From 1946-48 she was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College, where she was introduced by her teacher Colin Hayes to the history of painting and encouraged to attend a local life class.  Riley went on to study at Goldsmith’s College of Art from 1949-52 under Sam Rabin and then at the RCA from 1952-5 at the same time as Frank Auerbach, Peter Blake, Joe Tilson and John Bratby. A long period of unhappiness followed her graduation from the RCA as Riley nursed her father after a serious car accident and subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown.  After a number of jobs she joined the J Walter Thompson advertising agency. 


In 1959 Riley took part in a summer school in Suffolk organised by Harry Thubron, and met Maurice de Sausmarez, who became her friend and mentor, going on to write the first monograph of her work.  On tour in Italy in the summer of 1960, Riley painted Pink Landscape, 1960, a key piece in her early development.  Having broken with Sausmarez and suffered an artistic crisis, her attempts to create an entirely black painting produced her first black-and-white works.  She held her first solo show 1962 at Gallery One, London and won the International Prize for painting at the 34th Venice Biennale in 1968, the first British contemporary painter and first woman ever to win. 


The work of Bridget Riley is represented in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The British Council; the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; the Berardo Collection; Sintra Museum of Modern Art, Lisbon; the Arts Council Collection Hayward Gallery, London; the Tate, London; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Neues Museum, Nurnberg; the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; the Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust; The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and the Sezon Museum of Modern Art, Kitasaku. 




[1] ‘Into Colour’, Bridget Riley in conversation with Robert Kudielka, 1978 cited in Robert Kudielka (ed), The Eye’s Mind: Bridget Riley Collected Writings 1965-1999, Thames and Hudson, London, 1999, p.104.

[2] Bridget Riley, ‘The Pleasure of Sight’ (1984), in Bridget Riley, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2019, p.108.

[3] Ibid., p.108.

Other Works By
Bridget Riley:

Bridget Riley - Study no. 1 for Studio International Cover Bridget Riley - YGBR. Four colours, visual violet