Artist biography

English painter. In 1906 he began attending art classes at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London. His earliest still-lifes show the influence of Dutch 17th-century painting. In 1908 he won a prize in a national art competition. That autumn he entered the Slade School of Fine Art, where he was taught by Henry Tonks and Philip Wilson Steer. He won several prizes and scholarships and fell in love with Dora Carrington.

Although he experimented with a degree of abstraction while interest in Post-Impressionism was at its height, he did so in order to introduce a barbaric and symbolic note into his essentially realist art. His aim was ‘to paint a picture in which I hope to express all the sorrow of life'. His masterpiece is a savage indictment of war: entitled Merry-go-round (1916; London, Tate), it portrays a mechanistic nightmare in which rows of serried figures spin forever. Its harsh colour and violent mood announce his dissatisfaction with much English Post-Impressionism which he declared an abject imitation of the French example, ‘too refined for us – too sweet. We must have something more brutal today.'

After the stridency of Merry-go-round and other war-time paintings, his work became gentler during the 1920s, using subtle colour schemes and more persuasive rhythms. He began to concentrate on still-lifes and nudes. Dogged by tuberculosis, anxious about his work and depressed at his lack of success, he took his own life in 1939.

Bibliography
Mark Gertler, 1891–1939 (exh. cat. by J. Woodeson, Colchester, Minories, 1971)
J. Woodeson: Mark Gertler: Biography of a Painter, 1891–1939 (London, 1972)
Mark Gertler: The Early and the Late Years (exh. cat., London, Ben Uri A.G., 1982)

FRANCES SPALDING

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