Catalogue entry

Rodrigo Moynihan 1910-1990

T01770 Painting 1935

Not inscribed.
Canvas, 16½ x 13½ (41.8 x 34.3).
Purchased from Anthony d’Offay (Knapping Fund) 1973.
Coll: William Winkworth; Stephen Winkworth; Anthony d’Offay.
Exh: London Group, New Burlington Galleries, November 1935 (I).

‘Painting’ is one of seven Objective Abstractions by Moynihan known to be in existence. In a letter to the compiler (20 December 1973) the artist stated:‘I have 5 and the Tate 2… they represent the bulk of Objective Abstractions which now exist.’

In the same letter the artist writes:‘I think “Painting” can be fairly confidently dated 1935 (not later than 1936). The Zwemmer paintings (1934 and before) had more definite marks and longer strokes. I have another painting 30 x 20 in. very similar in style and of the same possible date. It has massed flower-like areas of thick paint. [In conversation with the artist (30 January 1974) he amplified this statement, commenting that he owns one other painting, 30 x 25 in., which also belongs to this date. ‘All three are characterized by similar brush-strokes and circular hatching effects at the top. Of the three “Painting” is the most complete and has the strongest scheme.’]… ‘Towards the end of 1936 the marks tended to dissolve more. The last painting was a biggish one and I destroyed it or it disappeared during the war. It looked like white pink vapour.’

‘Painting’ was included in the London Group exhibition of November 1935 and was caricatured in the Daily Express by Jean Baird as an ‘example of Pure Painting (Just paint and No Design)’ (Daily Express, 9 November 1935, p.3).

The artist emphasised that at the time the centre of interest in abstract art in England was focused upon Paris and Unit One. ‘Our emphasis was on the “painterly”, on stroke and gesture having value in themselves, on looking with interest at the late Cezanne, late Monet, Turner, Chinese and Japanese calligraphy… Contrary to Tachism and Expressionism we had a strictly limited view of colour, restraining its use because we thought it had fundamentally figurative allusions therefore these paintings were very light, almost all pinky white with minimum changes from one passage to another.’ (Art News, LXV, No.3, p.41).

To the suggestion that ‘Painting’ was perhaps unconsciously influenced by the feather-mass style strokes of the Japanese artist Tomioka Tessai, an example of whose work was in Winkworth’s collection at this time, Moynihan replied: ‘Winkworth is quite right about the Japanese influence. I was in close contact with him and his collection from 1932 onwards.’

During August 1935 William Townsend noted in his diary: ‘Both Tibbie’s and Moynihan’s paintings had at this time a superficial resemblance to late storm-pieces by Turner. Their surfaces had become elaborate, melting, without definite centres of focus; the paint was thick, the tone uniformly very high in key.’

When asked whether ‘Painting’ had any basis in nature, perhaps the starting point being in this case a vase of flowers subsequently over-painted and completely abstracted, the artist replied: ‘As regards your question about painting over old canvases. This never happened. The gradual thickening of the paint was on purpose —a kind of build-up as a result of correction and suggestion. I have an early essay which I called “Automatism and Synthesis” which seeks to explain this process.’ The artist said (30 January 1974) that as he painted he was ‘continually aware of the lung movement of the paint, its ability to breathe and move upon the surface of the canvas.’

However Moynihan said that during the Summer of 1935 he and Geoffrey Tibbie worked together, executing a series of landscape drawings which influenced the objective abstractions painted that year. Two calligraphic sepia drawings by Moynihan are related to ‘Painting’ (one, Collection Contemporary Art Society, the other, whereabouts unknown).

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.