John Armstrong

Icarus

1940

Artist
John Armstrong 1893–1973
Medium
Tempera on board
Dimensions
Support: 533 x 375 mm
frame:660 x 510 x 70mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1941
Reference
N05257

Not on display

Display caption

Icarus flew too close to the sun, so that his wings, made of wax, melted, and he crashed into the sea and drowned. Armstrong made this painting at the beginning of the second world war, and imagined the world to be like Icarus on the edge of disaster, with wings already damaged.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

N05257 ICARUS 1940
 
Inscr. ‘JA [in monogram] 40’ b.r.
Canvas, 21×14 3/4 (53·5×37·5).
Purchased from the Leicester Galleries (Knapping Fund) 1941.
Exh: United Artists, R.A., January–March 1940 (1217); C.A.S., British Painting Today, Provincial Tour, 1940–2 (22).
Repr: Studio, CXXVIII, 1944, p.57; Hesketh Hubbard, A Hundred Years of British Painting 1851–1951, 1951, pl.116.

The artist wrote (20 October 1959) that ‘“Icarus” has always been a symbol to me of the world flying too close to the sun of knowledge and getting destroyed in the process. The version in the Tate was painted earlier (I think) than the one reproduced in Arthur Howell's book.’

The second version is reproduced in colour in The Meaning and Purpose of Art by Arthur R. Howell, 1957, facing p.170, and shows the same central element of a cracked globe on the end of a pole, but this time without wings and surrounded by shattered fragments. The sea is suggested only in the background instead of forming part of the foreground as in No.5257. A later version was exhibited at the R.A., 1961 (564), as ‘Icarus 1961’ (repr. Royal Academy Illustrated, 1961, p.64) and others at the Molton and Lords, November 1963 (21, 23–5).

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I