T03837 Dark Landscape 1944–5
Oil on board 21 1/2 × 27 3/4 (546 × 705)
Inscribed ‘Craxton’ 44' b.r.
Purchased from the artist through Christopher Hull (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Exh: John Craxton, St George's Gallery, summer 1945 (almost certainly in parts of May and/or June; no catalogue); John Craxton paintings and drawings 1941–1966, Whitechapel Art Gallery, January–February 1967 (13, dated 1945 but repr. as 1944–45)
Repr: In col. in Peter Watson, ‘Note sur deux peintres anglais’, La Littérature anglaise depuis la Guerre: Enquête 1945, pp.24–7 (special French-language issue of Horizon magazine, published from London by ‘Editions Horizon’, July 1945), repr. opp. p.25, dated 1945; in col. in Geoffrey Grigson, John Craxton Paintings and Drawings 1948, plate 2.
Craxton's own photographic record dates this work autumn 1944-spring 1945 and he writes (letter, 3 May 1984):
The correct date for ‘Dark Landscape’ is 1944–45. It's most probable that I felt it was finished in 1944, but I continued to work on it into 1945 without bothering to add the extra date. I remember Peter Watson urging me to hurry up and deliver it to the block makers.
In a letter to the compiler postmarked 26 April 1986, Craxton wrote:
Preparatory drawings for ‘Dark Landscape’ as far as I know don't exist. The place that is at the back of it existed and that is the Mill, Alderholt [Dorset], [near] Fordingbridge [Hampshire] - the footbridge over the stream and the main bridge etc. I can't explain the floppy hat! nor the dead tree shaped like a moon cow's horns coming out of the bush nor the young and alive tree coming out of another. If the painting has mystery and enigma then that is what I wanted it to have. Incidentally at that time Lucian [Freud] and I were allowed to attend the Surrealist dinners once a week at the Casa Pepé with Mesens, Robert Melville and all. Lucian painted a marvellous self portrait of himself holding a feather at about the same time which may have a faint connection with ‘Dark Landscape’.
The Freud painting is ‘Man with a Feather (Self Portrait)’ 1943 (oil on canvas 30 × 20 inches, repr. Lawrence Gowing, Lucian Freud 1982, p.18). There is a close connection between ‘Dark Landscape’ and Craxton's ‘Reaper with a Mushroom’ 1944–5 (conté crayon on blue paper, 17 × 24 inches, repr. in catalogue of Craxton's 1967 Whitechapel Gallery retrospective, cited above). In both works a single figure wearing a hat with a wide, curved brim stands in front of a tree, the trunk of which culminates at the top in a spike, and extends a mushroom in one hand. Like ‘Dark Landscape’, the drawing ‘Painter's Landscape’ 1944 (repr. in catalogue of same Whitechapel exhibition) gives prominence to a crescent moon (the form of which is echoed by the sickle held by the reaper in ‘Reaper with a Mushroom’), and also to spiked trees. The horned form in the centre of ‘Dark Landscape’ is echoed by the horns of the bull which enters at the left of the picture in ‘Painter's Landscape’ (in the middle distance of ‘Reaper with a Mushroom’ prances a fierce animal of indeterminate species). Other works reproduced in 1945 in the same article as ‘Dark Landscape’ were Craxton's ‘Welsh Farmyard’ 1944, in which the twin prongs of the implement held by the single figure echo the horns in ‘Dark Landscape’; Graham Sutherland's ‘Horned Forms’ 1944 (Tate Gallery, T00834); and Sutherland's ‘The Intruding Bull’ 1944. In his interview with Gerard Hastings in the catalogue of John Craxton, An Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings 1908–1985, Christopher Hull Gallery, June–July 1985, Craxton stated:
Peter Watson introduced me to Sutherland, whom I already admired. When he saw my picture ‘Poet in Landscape’ (1941) in Watson's flat he said ‘I wish I had been able to paint something like that when I was your age’. I went to Pembrokeshire with him for the first time in 1943 and learnt a lot.
In The Poet's Eye 1944, an anthology chosen by Geoffrey Grigson with sixteen lithographs by Craxton, the images facing pp.38 and 42 are reminiscent in several ways of ‘Dark Landscape’. Both are printed in various blues and black, as is the image facing p.31, which also includes a crescent moon in white. Craxton points out (letter postmarked 16 June 1986) that the image facing p.102, which is printed in greens and black, ‘is the same landscape from a different view over the watermeadows’ and that the black and white image on p.9, which relates to the right hand form in T03837, ‘is growling bush with sapling’.
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986