Catalogue entry

Victor Pasmore 1908-1998

Lamplight 1941

N05253

Oil on canvas 635 x 765 (25 x 30 1/8)

Inscribed in red paint ‘VP.’ b.r.

Purchased from the artist (Knapping Fund) 1941

Exhibited:
Paintings by Members of the Euston Road Group, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, May-June 1941 (33, as Interior with Lamplight)
Tate Gallery Wartime Acquisitions, National Gallery, London, April-May 1942 (91)
A Selection from the Tate Gallery’s Wartime Acquisitions, CEMA tour, Royal Exchange, July-Aug. 1942, Cheltenham Art Gallery, Sept., Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Oct., Galleries of Birmingham Society of Arts, Nov.-Dec., Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Jan.-Feb. 1943, Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, Feb-March, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, March-April, Manchester City Art Gallery, April-May, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, May-June, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, June, Glasgow Museum and Art Gallery, Kelvingrove, July, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, Aug. 1943 (64)
Modern British Pictures from the Tate Gallery, British Council tour, 1946-7, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Jan.-Feb. 1946 (64), Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, March (64), Raadhushallen, Copenhagen, April-May (64), Musée de Jeu de Paume, Paris, June-July (64), Musée des Beaux Arts, Berne, Aug. (65), Akademie der Bildenden Kunste, Vienna, Sept. (66), Narodni Galerie, Prague, Oct.-Nov. (66), Muzeum Narodne, Warsaw, Nov.-Dec. (66), Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Rome, Jan.-Feb. 1947 (66)
Victor Pasmore: Retrospective Exhibition 1925-65, Tate Gallery, London, May-June 1965 (22)
One Man’s Choice: Selected by Dr Henry Roland from his own Collection and from Other Sources, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, April-May 1985 (78)
Victor Pasmore, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Conn., Nov. 1988-Jan. 1989, The Phillips Collection, Washington DC, Feb.-April 1989 (5, repr. in col. p.28)

Literature:
Alan Bowness, ‘The Paintings and Constructions of Victor Pasmore’, Burlington Magazine, vol.102, no.686, May 1960, p.201
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, II, London 1965, p.508
Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, with a Catalogue Raisonée of the Paintings, Constructions and Graphics 1926-1979, London 1980, p. 290, no.48, repr. p.47 (col. )
Bruce Laughton, The Euston Road School: A Study in Objective Painting, Aldershot 1986, p.218, repr. p.219

Also reproduced:
Clive Bell, Victor Pasmore, Harmondsworth 1945, pl.1 (col.)

Lamplight shows the artist and his wife Wendy at their home at 117 Ebury Street, near Victoria station in London. The Pasmores moved there on their marriage in June 1940. The artist recalled that the picture was painted around March 1941 when the explosion of a German landmine nearby destroyed the studio’s glass roof.[1] He thought it possible that the painting was not yet complete when the bomb struck and recalled that it had been damaged by the flying glass. That, prior to completion, the canvas was patched at the edge of the book to the right of the jug confirms this. Pasmore related the eponymous oil lamp and sombre tones of the painting to the wartime blackout and the studio’s lack of electricity. When asked about the vibrant green colouring that suffuses the picture, however, he insisted: ‘I make up colours, I am not a photographer.’[2] The strong colouring is characteristic of his work of the late 1930s and early 1940s, seen most notably in The Flower Barrow, 1938-42 (National Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide),[3] which Clive Bell, writing in 1942, believed to be his masterpiece.[4]


Lamplight was thinly executed in a number of layers of oil paint on a commercially prepared canvas. That the composition was mapped out beforehand is apparent from underdrawing which remains visible in the vertical white flash beside the lamp’s chimney. Now thinly painted, this area was left bare when the green paint was applied. In addition there is a study for this work - a cursory sketch showing the lamp, part of the table and the figure of Wendy Pasmore.[5] In both the drawing and the painting the figure has her left hand to her face as though in contemplation; however, the drawing shows her looking to her right rather than looking down as in the painting. In the sketch the table is partially obscured by an angled oblong, reminiscent of a drawing-board, which suggests that the still-life composition of books and jug seen in the painting were added to the composition later. The artist confirmed that the painting was partly done from life and partly invented.[6] That the self-portrait on the left of the composition appears to hold out his left hand is consistent with a right-handed artist working with the aid of a mirror. The motif of the artist reflected in a mirror also appeared in Pasmore’s Titianesque Reclining Nude, 1939.[7]

With the closure of the Euston Road School at the outbreak of war, Pasmore entered a more private, isolated period. Alan Bowness has associated the ‘thinly painted, emotionally detached figure studies’ like Lamplight with a ‘national indulgence of understatement ... [and] reticence’.[8] The artist seems to confirm this sense of isolation in a letter to Euston Road colleague Graham Bell dated 25 March 1941. ‘I have been painting a great deal’, he wrote,

Wendy sits for me and I have been doing flower studies and interior subjects. It is a new experience painting these days. One is no longer harassed by the conflicting ideas of fellow painters and friends and there are no tempting French pictures to imitate. One is thrown directly to nature, a good thing if you can rise to her.[9]


However, Bowness later described the work of the period as possessing ‘a quietness, an inner stillness that contrasts most strongly with the events of the outside world’.[10] Alastair Grieve has similarly written of its reflection of ‘the warmth of wartime family life’.[11] This concentration upon ‘intimiste’ subjects reflects Bonnard’s influence on Pasmore which Clive Bell identified.[12] It has also been suggested that it is equally indicative of Pasmore’s up-dating of Sickert’s Camden Town paintings.[13]


Lamplight was purchased by the Tate Gallery from the artist shortly before its inclusion in the Euston Road exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford in 1941 which was largely organised by Pasmore with some assistance from Kenneth Clark.

Chris Stephens
Feb. 1998


[1] Interview with the author, 27 Feb. 1996
[2] Ibid.
[3] Repr. Clive Bell, Victor Pasmore, 1945, pl.7 ( col.)
[4] Ibid., p.16
[5] Sold Sotheby’s, London, 4 Dec. 1963, lot 126
[6] Interview with the author, 27 Feb. 1996
[7] Repr. Bell 1945, pl.32
[8] Alan Bowness, ‘The Paintings and Constructions of Victor Pasmore’, Burlington Magazine, vol.102, no.686, May 1960, p.201
[9] Bruce Laughton, The Euston Road School: A Study in Objective Painting, Aldershot 1986, pp.218-19
[10] Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, with a Catalogue Raisonée of the Paintings, Constructions and Graphics 1926-1979, 1980, p.10
[11] Alastair Grieve, Victor Pasmore, exh. cat., Arts Council tour, 1980, p.6
[12] Bell 1945, p.15
[13] Laughton 1986, p.218