‘I am a secret painter … it is something that germinates like a seed; in the dark soil and recesses of the living coral of the mind … They grow like a plant, slowly putting out shoots, they need pruning, mediating on, while the roots grow in the dark’ (E. Agar quoted in M. Remy, Eileen Agar: Dreaming Oneself Awake, London, 2017, p. 149).
One of the many garden themed paintings Agar created over her lifetime, No. 18 Musical Garden draws on modernist techniques of Abstract Expressionism and early Surrealism developing in the 1940s. A small-scale painting bursting with colour and dynamism, the present work shows Agar’s ability to illustrate her passion for the natural world. Similar to Agar’s renowned collages, layers of shapes dance over one another, and her self-described ‘imaginative playfulness’ creates a lyrical arrangement with outlines of guitars and flowers seen amidst the composition.
Combining her early influences of music with Surrealist symbolism, the guitar, found in a number of Agar’s paintings and collages, suggests a positive harmony within nature. The novelist A.S. Byatt recounted how Agar’s mother insisted that good music was essential for their welfare, requesting that an orchestra accompany the family on their travels from Argentina to Britain. Michel Remy notes that works including this motif are ‘haunted by what lies outside the limits of reality – music’ (M. Remy, op. cit., p. 82). Painted two years after the Second World War, the present work could additionally reflect Agar’s peaceful optimism growing from the devastation of conflict.