On display at Tate Britain

Medium
Oil paint on wood
Dimensions
Support: 575 x 768 mm
frame: 638 x 828 x 45 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1980
Reference
T03057

Display caption

Bigge was a late inclusion in Unit One. His work was known to Nash but not to Nicholson, Moore or Coates. He was clearly influenced by Edward Wadsworth. Bigge wrote in the Unit One book, in which this painting was illustrated, that modern painting should avoid 'sentimentality' as well as 'Romanticism, Prettyness, charm, decorativeness, and preciosity' and look for 'Precision, clarity and simplicity'. He argued that an abstract painting should have a 'pure' content. Its forms must not be associated with 'function or symbol' and should appear solid but dispense with 'modelling and perspective'. It should be logically constructed and form and colour should be integrated.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

T03057 COMPOSITION 1933

Inscribed ‘J. Bigge/’ 33' b.r.
Oil on plywood, 22 5/8 × 30 1/4 (58 × 76.9)
Purchased from Mrs Mary Edwards (Grant-in-Aid) 1980
Prov: Mrs Mary Edwards (the artist's daughter)
Exh: Unit I, Mayor Gallery, April 1934 (Bigge's four exhibits - 3, 12, 18 and 19 - were all entitled ‘Composition’); Contemporary Art, Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, May–June 1936 (169); Unit I, Portsmouth City Museum and Art Gallery, May–July 1978 (JB2, repr.)
Lit: C.J. Collier, ‘John Bigge’, unpublished article
Repr: ed. H. Read, Unit I, 1934, pl.xxiii (as ‘Abstraction’, 1933); James Bustard, ‘Unit One Today’, Artscribe, 12, June 1978, p.51

The four paintings by Bigge listed in the catalogue of the 1934 ‘Unit I’ exhibition were all titled ‘Composition’, and it is not certain that this was one of them. However a label proves that it was at the Mayor Gallery in March 1934, and its selection for reproduction in the book Unit I shows its importance. Whereas ‘Dieppe’ 1939 is Surrealist in character, this picture, painted two years later, illustrates his subsequent shift to abstract art.

‘An abstract picture’ he declared in Unit I, p.51, ‘whether it makes use of material or imaginary forms (in any case imaginary forms are derived or distilled from visual experience) must keep its content pure; there must be no association of the forms either with function or symbol. It must be logical in construction, but with its own self-imposed logic. Its forms must appear solid within space (not like cut-out pieces of paper applied to a flat surface), and yet it must dispense with both modelling and perspective, which belong to the world of material experience. Its colour must be integral with its form, colour-form becoming a single concept, and tone-values being merged within colour. It must be illuminated, but have its own internal illumination. It must retain an air of spontaneity and yet have the completeness of inevitability’.

There is a similar abstract painting on the reverse of the panel, painted over.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981