Throughout her life, Riley has drawn inspiration from the countryside and its riot of optical sensation. She wrote of her childhood in Cornwall, a county on England’s south coast, “My mother made a habit of looking, and she taught me to look. She would always point things out: the colors of shadows, the way water moves, how changes in the shape of a cloud are responsible for different colors in the sea, the dapples and reflections that come up from pools inside caves.”

Bridget Riley (b. 1931)
The River at Molecey’s Mill
Wax crayon
Collection of the artist
© Bridget Riley 2023. All rights reserved.


Rachel Federman: During World War II, with her father in the service, Riley left London with her mother, sister, and aunt, seeking safety in the coastal countryside. The idyllic landscape of Cornwall became the backdrop to a nightmare when, in 1942, Riley’s father was reported missing in action. For two years the family had no news of his whereabouts. Although it was a frightening period for the young Riley, she credits this time in the country, as well as the period in the 1950s when she made this drawing, with establishing her sensibility as an artist. Here Riley remembers her childhood home in Cornwall.

Bridget Riley: We had a very small cottage, four rooms, and, um, we were, I didn't go to school, not for, not for quite a long time, which was very, very heavenly . So there was in fact, uh, nothing to do, but look and enjoy and appreciate and move around and walk in this extraordinary beautiful landscape.