The Dante Cycle dates from 1964 to 1966.

 

 This excerpt from Pat Utermohlen (2006) explains the biographical and artistic context of William Utermohlen's Dante Cycle.

William, a total romantic was able to begin to work on his first long series of pictures choosing for his subject the 35 Cantos from Dante’s Inferno. The flat was in a decrepit Victorian house which had fallen into disrepair and now was separated into several flats. The rooms were very large and so William was able to use the bedroom as a studio and thus was able  to work on large pictures, each measuring five  by four feet, each one complete in its self but inevitably part of the whole. William was completely committed to the scheme but quite impervious to their final destination. London, in the beginning of the sixties, was finally coming out of the tired greyness of the post second world war period. Everything seemed to be changing rapidly, life had became lighter and more optimistic. Those of us interested in the visual arts became aware of the  ‘Pop Art’ movement which in England had taken off at the Royal College of Art where William’s former colleague, RB Kitaj had become known as one of the leaders. Before this, England and really  all of Europe had been overtaken by the last romantic American movement of ‘Abstract Expressionism’ epitomised by the tragic figure of Jackson Pollock. This movement was now being overtaken by the beginning of Hard-edged Abstraction and Pop Art . Before this Figurative painting was never seen, never shown in any gallery.  William, who was a committed figurative painter, felt increasingly out of touch, perhaps this is why he decided to embark upon the Dante series believing he could combine his love of the depiction of the figure with a kind of romantic fantasy. I was busily working for an art history degree in the evenings and so he was free to work without restraint. (We had married in 1965 to satisfy the requirements of our mutual families.) In hindsight I believe William always considered himself as an outsider, continuing with determination to paint what he believed even if against  contemporary fashion, occasionally managing to have small exhibitions. In 1963 at the Traverse Gallery, Edinburgh Festival, in 1965 and 1967 at Bonfiglioli Gallery in Oxford and finally in the same year, a project which was approached with great expectation, an exhibition at the Nordness Gallery in New York, which was a disaster, completely ignored. The pattern of these exhibitions was always the same; although usually finding some admirers his work seemed unable attract the attention of serious critics. Of course in retrospect this is unsurprising because his work was so different in spirit from the current fashion, stressing as it did the independence and loneliness of the condition of the artist, an attitude at variance with the contemporary world which was celebrating the strident consumer led excitement of modern urban life.

            The Dante series  show quite directly, how quickly William had developed stylistically. He  had always painted very thinly, first setting the drawing, then glazing over delicately with colour upon colour and tone upon tone, always firmly committed to a kind of verisimilitude, I remember helping to light a bonfire in the garden at Highbury so that he could study carefully the form and colour of the flames. All of our friends were drawn into appearing as the protagonists in the various Cantos. In the later ones in circa 1966 one can see the mature artist appearing with  new confidence. The forms became simpler, the composition bolder, the space flatter, all of which was influenced, no doubt by the pop art work of Kitaj and Hockney. In Highbury we had shared the old house with sets of friends, all originally ex-Oxford students. It was a happy period, but one bound to be temporary. One by one we all dispersed, we to a charming flat in Highgate, full of light and surrounded by trees, the others out of London. The Dante series and that period of our lives were at an end.

 

Images from the Dante Cycle:

You can view the images by scrolling down from here or opening a slideshow by clicking here.

 

101-utermohlen-1964-good-friday-canto1-152x120cm

Canto 1, Good Friday

William Utermohlen, 1964

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

102-utermohlen-1966-good-friday-canto1-152x120cm-oil-on-canvas

Canto 1, Good Friday

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

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Canto 4, Limbo

William Utermohlen, 1964

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

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Canto 4, Third Circle

William Utermohlen, 1964

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

105-utermohlen-1966-francesca-and-paolo-canto5-152x120cm-oiloncanvas

Canto 5, Francesca and Paolo

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

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Canto 7, Plutus 

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

 108-utermohlen-1966-canto8152x120cm-oiloncanvas

Canto 8, Falling Angels

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas 152 x 120 cm

 

 109-utermohlen-1966-the-furies-canto9-152x120cm-oiloncanvas

Canto 9, The Furies

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

110-utermohlen-1966-farinata-canto10-152x122cm-oiloncanvas

Canto 10, Farinata

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

 112-utermohlen-1966-the-minataur-canto12-152x120cm-oiloncanvas

 Canto 12, The Minataur

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

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utermohlen 1966 canto14 from its sterile bed 1525x1200mm blomfields rd 700

Canto 14, Sterile Bed

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

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Canto 15, Bruneto Latini

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

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Canto 17, Geryon

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

 119-utermohlen-1965-mouths-of-greed-simony-canto19-152x120cm-oiloncanvas

Canto 19, The Mouths of Greed

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

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utermohlen 1966 canto21 an elder of santa zita 1525x1220mm 700

Canto 20, An Elder of Santa Zita , Elder and Sinner

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

122-utermolhen-1966-sometimes-with-trumpets-sometimes-with-bells-canto22-oiloncanvas-152x122cm

utermohlen 1966 canto22 sometimes with trumpets sometimes with bells oil on canvas 1525x1200mm 700

Canto 22, Sometimes with Trumpets, Sometimes with Bells

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

123-utermohlen-1966-iin-silence-and-in-solitude-canto23-152x120cm-oiloncanvas

Canto 23, In Silence and In Solitude

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

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utermohlen 1966 canto24 the dust again oil on canvas 1525x120mm 700

Canto 24, The Dust Again

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

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Canto 25, Serpent and Soul

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

 126-utermolhen-1966-ulysses-to-diomedes-canto26-152x122cm-oiloncanvas

Canto 25, Ulysses to Diomedes

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

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Canto 27, Sinners in Flames

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

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utermohlen 1966 canto28 an eye for an eye for all eternity oil on canvas 1525x1200mm 700

Canto 28, The Schizmatics

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

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Canto 30, The Stampos Faces

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

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Canto 31, The Slayer of Mad War

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

 132-utermohlen-1966-their-eyelides-stood-in-bondage-canto32152x122cm

Canto 32, Their Eyelids Stood in Bondage

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

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Canto 33, Ugolino

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm

 

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Canto 34, The Exit

William Utermohlen, 1966

oil on canvas, 152 x 120 cm