Catalogue entry

Victor Pasmore 1908-1998

Roses in a Jar 1947


Oil and charcoal on canvas 610 x 457 (24 x18)

Inscribed in charcoal ‘VP’ b.r.

Purchased from Miss Honor Frost (Grant-in-Aid) 1980

Purchased from Redfern Gallery, London by R.D.S. Mays 1952; Leicester Galleries, London; W.A. Evill 1953, thence by bequest to Honor Frost 1963

?Summer Exhibition, Redfern Gallery, London, July-Sept. 1947 (50, as Rose in a Jar)
The Collection of R.D.S. Mays, Leicester Galleries, London, May 1953 (5)
Victor Pasmore: Paintings and Constructions 1944-1954, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, March-May 1954 (6, as Pink Rose)
Trends in British Art 1900-1954, Guildhall Art Gallery, London, July-Aug. 1954 (57, as Roses)
Victor Pasmore: Retrospective Exhibition 1925-65, Tate Gallery, London, May-June 1965 (65, repr. pl.33)
Wilfred Evill Collection, Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, ?Sept. 1965 (129)

Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, with a Catalogue Raisonée of the Paintings, Constructions and Graphics 1926-1979, London 1980, p.293, no.120, repr. p.292
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, p.193, repr.

Roses in a Jar consists of several areas of thinly applied oil paint over a commercial white-primed, linen canvas. The ground was left untouched in the area of the jar and the table top, so that the delineation of the composition’s basic forms in pencil and charcoal is clearly visible. Some brushwork is evident in the working of the flowers, the repositioning of which is revealed by the underdrawing.

This is one of a number of treatments of the same theme on which Pasmore worked during 1947. These include the very similar Everlasting Flowers: Indian Red, Pink and Crimson, 1947 (artist’s estate)[1] and the more complex Still Life with Bottle and Flowers, 1947-8 (Alan Ross).[2] All three works remain, in a sense, unresolved. Roses in a Jar and Everlasting Flowers seem to be developments from Pink Rose of the same year (private collection),[3] though they are considerably formalised. The composition of Pink Rose is dominated by the centrally positioned bloom in front of a mirror or window. The forms are diffuse, and the paint very thinly applied, so that the style of the work appears to fall somewhere between that of Lamplight (Tate Gallery N05253) and Roses in a Jar. When compared to Pink Rose, Roses in a Jar and Everlasting Flowers appear to have been abstracted from this earlier idea, the elements having been simplified so that the mirror or a window in Pink Rose has become, in the unfinished works, a simple geometric form.

That geometry was the starting point for the composition of Roses in a Jar is suggested by two small marks along the bottom edge: one bisects the horizontal, coinciding with the vertical line at the top of the painting, the other marks its golden section (ratio of 1:1.618) and locates the right hand edge of the large brown form. Similarly, the top edge of the smaller green rectangle is one third of the way up the composition and the position of the jar seems to have been fixed by a series of diagonal lines drawn from the top right hand corner to the bottom edge. The stalk of the rose was defined by a diagonal from that corner to the golden section of the bottom edge and by the diagonal of a square defined by the top of the darker rectangle, the line of the table top and the two sides. The positioning of the leaves can also be related to a formal structure of vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines.

The proportions of the rectangles which constitute the main composition are derived from standard ratios as described in Jay Hambidge’s The Elements of Dynamic Symmetry (1926) and reiterated in Matila Ghyka’s Geometry of Art and Life (1946), both of which Pasmore read at that time. The larger dark rectangle is of the same proportions as the main picture, its width being three quarters of its height. Its height also relates to an 18 inch square described by the top, left and right hand edges of the main support and the bottom line of the dark rectangle in the ratio 1:1.809. That proportion, and others which can be identifed in the picture, is amongst what Hambidge described as ‘the dynamic ratios which are most frequently found not only in nature but in Greek design’.[4] A similar use of proportional systems and geometrical principles is discernable in Everlasting Flowers, though its format is closer to a square.

It was Pasmore’s standard practice to work on a number of paintings at the same time. As all three flower pictures are unresolved it is likely that they were developed alongside each other. The failure of resolution reflects Pasmore’s gradual move towards abstraction. In an earlier Tate Gallery catalogue the artist was quoted as saying that these works, along with The Park, 1948 (Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide)[5] and The Gardens of Hammersmith No. 2, 1947-9 (Tate Gallery T07033) were his last ‘post-impressionist’ pictures.[6] In all of these he attempted to develop an objective mode of painting while retaining an external object. Roses in a Jar illustrates his attempt, to that end, to compose representational pictures using abstract principles.

A lack of finish was an established characteristic of Pasmore’s work, as seen, for example, in Nude, 1941 (Tate Gallery T00152). His willingness to exhibit the work in its unfinished state is equally typical. It was an attitude that would have been considerably bolstered by the highly successful exhibition of Cézanne’s watercolours at the Tate Gallery in 1946. In the catalogue for that show Pasmore’s friend Kenneth Clark suggested that the reason why ‘in spite of this lack of finish Cézanne’s watercolours give such a satisfying sense of completeness’, was the fact that ‘he knew how to concentrate all his resources on the essentials of a composition’. It was just such a desire to reduce the composition to its basics that Pasmore was exploring in Roses in a Jar. However, the flower pieces and others, including the major work Interior with Reclining Women, 1944-6 (formerly known as The Abode of Love, artist’s collection),[7] reflect the artist’s acceptance that the balance between abstract and figurative elements could not be resolved any further. While the creamy paint of the flowers in Roses in a Jar looks back to his work of the 1930s and the war, the arrangement of rectangles on the principles of dynamic geometry anticipate his abstract work, particularly the collages of 1949.

Chris Stephens
Feb. 1998

[1] Repr. Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, with a Catalogue Raisonée of the Paintings, Constructions and Graphics 1926-1979, London 1980, p.96
[2] Repr. ibid., p.73
[3] Repr. Victor Pasmore, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1965, no.60, pl.20
[4] Jay Hambidge, The Elements of Dynamic Geometry, New York 1926, 3rd ed. New York 1967, p.105
[5] Repr. Bowness and Lambertini 1980, p.77 (col.)
[6] Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, p.193
[7] Repr. Bowness and Lambertini 1980, p.75 (col.)