Victor Pasmore

The Gardens of Hammersmith No. 2

1949

Artist
Victor Pasmore 1908–1998
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 765 x 969 mm
frame: 989 x 1193 x 99 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1995
Reference
T07033

On loan to: Pallant House Gallery (Chichester, UK)

Exhibition: The Subjective Factor: The Art of Victor Pasmore (c.1929-1969)

Summary

The Gardens of Hammersmith No. 2 is related to the view from 16 Hammersmith Terrace, the house beside the Thames in London where Pasmore lived from 1942-7. It is considered to be the third in a series of four paintings taking this view as their subject matter: The Gardens of Hammersmith 1944 (private collection), The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No.1 1944-7 (private collection), The Gardens of Hammersmith No. 2 1949, and The Gardens of Hammersmith No. 3 1947-9 (private collection). Initially Pasmore considered The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No.1 and The Gardens of Hammersmith No. 2 as a discrete pair separate from a wider series. However, the retrospective numbering of the paintings suggests that he revised his opinion and decided to tie all four works into a series demonstrating a gradual progression towards abstraction.

The compositional relationship between The Gardens of Hammersmith No. 2 and The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No.1 is like that of a reflected image in as much as the arrangement of the gardens and river is more or less reversed. Indeed, the view depicted in The Gardens of Hammersmith No.2 did not exist in nature. In the context of 1949, a year after Pasmore's first abstract works and two years after he had left Hammersmith, this open reference to a previous painting suggests a hermetic practice removed from the plein air legacy of Impressionism. Though attuned to the Impressionists' attempt to create objective painting, he commented in a letter to Kenneth Clark in 1948 that he 'would like to produce impressionist pictures painted, like the Old Masters, in the studio.'

The painting is subdivided by diagonal lines drawn in charcoal or pencil and picked out in places with red paint. Several of these lines meet at a point one quarter of the way up the righthand edge, others half way up the lefthand side. The lines represent the division of the gardens and serve as compositional aids. The river border of the gardens is marked by a line running from a quarter of the way up the lefthand side to the middle of the righthand edge. The trees are also arranged geometrically. The trunk of the tree on the far left marks a line bisecting the centre of the top edge. The next tree denotes the golden section of the width of the painting, the third is exactly mid-way.

This precise composition is inscribed in pencil or charcoal on a painted white ground. The bushes have been drawn in charcoal, or possibly conté crayon, and rubbed into the ground to achieve the smudged effect visible through the coloured dots. The trees are rendered in tones of red-brown. In contrast to these pointillist and linear forms, the sky is painted with smooth modulations of white, pale blue and pink.

During the war, Pasmore had studied many of the Post-Impressionists' writings, and in the following years he worked through some of their ideas in his own paintings. The impact of Seurat's Pointillism is particularly evident here.

Further reading:

Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, with a Catalogue Raisonée of the Paintings, Constructions and Graphics 1926-1979, London 1980, reproduced p.79, cat.127
Bruce Laughton, The Euston Road School: A Study in Objective Painting, Aldershot 1986, reproduced p.293
Norbert Lynton, Victor Pasmore: Nature into Art, exhibition catalogue, Center for International Contemporary Arts, New York 1990, reproduced p.16, fig.3

Toby Treves
May 2000

Display caption

Pasmore was successful as both a figurative and an abstract artist. This view of the back gardens from his Hammersmith studio is one of a series of 1940s London landscapes that brought his figurative period to an end. It shows him blurring the boundaries between naturalism and abstraction. Tate's collection of works by Pasmore charts every phase in his career. He was described by the art historian Kenneth Clark as 'one of the two or three most talented English painters' of the twentieth century.

Gallery label, August 2004

Technique and condition

The painting was executed on a single piece of medium-weight linen fabric that is attached to an expandable stretcher with copper tacks at the edges and wire staples at the rear. Neither the stretcher nor the tacks / staples are original to the work. The canvas would have been purchased pre-primed and this priming appears to consist of an initial layer of animal glue size followed by a pigmented layer of lead white in linseed oil. Prior to any paint application, an appreciable amount of preparatory drawing and marking up was carried out on the primed canvas with a combination of charcoal and pencil. Although much of this is now covered by paint, some of it is still visible in certain areas. The marking up takes the form of small lines along some of the edges with the relevant fractions written by the marks. For example along the right edge pencil marks have been made at a quarter, a third and half way up the side. In some places there is even drawing over the paints layers.

The paint is oil colour and was applied mainly by brush. The initial white layer over the background would have been applied with a fairly wide brush in very broad horizontal strokes and in a sufficient thickness to cover most of canvas weave texture. However, the leaves and branches in the trees and bushes have been applied with a much smaller brush and the highlights in the leaves that exhibit a reasonable impasto have been applied with a small palette knife. All these details appear to be single applications of paint. Although the technique is fairly loose, most of it appears wet on dry with very little mixing of colours in areas where paint layers overlap. The white background and tree branches would probably have been thinned slightly with a solvent such as turpentine before application. However, many of the spots of paint used for the leaves have the consistency of paint used straight from the tube. The painting is not varnished

The painting is currently in a reasonable condition despite some fairly extensive cracking and cupping visible in the white paint. Many of these appear to be impact cracks from the rear and there are straight cracks corresponding to where the canvas has flapped against the original stretcher bars. The part-gilded frame may be the original and has recently been modified slightly to hold low reflecting glass and a backboard that will significantly increase the level of protection given to the painting against further knocks.

Tom learner
June 1998

Catalogue entry

Victor Pasmore 1908-1998

The Gardens of Hammersmith No. 2 1949

T07033

Oil on canvas 760 x 968 (29 15/16 x 38 1/8)

Inscribed in pencil ‘sq 1’, ‘1/4’, ‘GS √2’, ‘1/2’, ‘GS’, ‘1/3’ along bottom edge, ‘GS’, ‘1/3’, ‘1/4’ on right hand edge and in blue ?oil paint ‘VP 49’ underneath paint layer and at right angles to main composition t.r.
Inscribed in ballpoint pen in another hand on back, on canvas return ‘Passmore 3’, centre l.; upside down ‘TOP’ and ‘24/2’ b. centre; and in another hand on label on back of frame ‘N/156 VIVIEN LEIGH | BLACKBOYS. SUSSEX | THE GARDENS HAMMERSMITH’

Purchased at Christies, Post-War and Contemporary British Art, 25 October 1995 (46, repr. in col.)

Provenance:
Purchased from the Redfern Gallery by Vivien Leigh, Lady Olivier 1954, thence by descent

Exhibited:
Victor Pasmore: Paintings and Constructions 1944-54, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, March-May 1954 (1, repr. as The Gardens of Hammersmith No.4)
Summer Exhibition, Redfern Gallery, London, July-Aug. 1954 (41, as Chiswick Gardens, Hammersmith)
Victor Pasmore: Paintings and Constructions, Venice Biennale, June-Oct. 1960 (4)
Pasmore and Paolozzi, British Council European tour 1960-1, Umetnicki Paviljon, Malum, Kalemegdanu, Belgrade, Nov. 1960, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, March-May 1961, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, June 1961, Städtische Kunstgalerie, Bochum, July-Sept., Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Sept.-Oct. 1961, Gallery A.P.I.A.W., Liège, ?Oct.-Dec., Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo, Dec. 1961-Jan. 1962, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humelbaek, Jan. (2, repr. as Gardens of Hammersmith No.3, 1947)
Victor Pasmore, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover, May-June 1962 (3, repr. p.[9])
Victor Pasmore: Retrospective Exhibition 1925-65, Tate Gallery, London, May-June 1965 (69, repr. pl.30 as The Gardens of Hammersmith (3))
Victor Pasmore, Arts Council tour, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, July 1965, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Aug. (16, repr., as Gardens of Hammersmith (3))
Victor Pasmore, Arts Council tour, Cartwright Hall, Bradford, Feb.-March 1980, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, March-May, Sainsbury Centre, UEA, Norwich, May-June, Leicestershire Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester, June-July, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, July-Aug., RA, Sept.-Oct. 1980 (10, repr. p.18, as The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No.3)
Creation: Modern Art and Nature, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Aug.-Oct. 1984 (59, repr.)
Englische Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert, Staatsgaleries, Stuttgart, May-Aug. 1987 (no cat., repr. in accompanying booklet)
Victor Pasmore, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Conn., Nov. 1988-Jan. 1989, The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C., Feb.-April 1989 (17)

Literature:
Alan Bowness, ‘The Paintings and Constructions of Victor Pasmore’, Burlington Magazine, vol.102, no.686, May 1960, p.201, repr. p.200 (as River Scene, 1946-7)
Robert Melville, ‘Funnel and Breast-Plate’, Architectural Review, vol.138, no.822, Aug. 1965, p.129 (repr.)
Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, with a Catalogue Raisonée of the Paintings, Constructions and Graphics 1926-1979, London 1980, pp. 11-12, 294, no.127, repr. p.79 (as The Gardens of Hammersmith No. 2, 1947-9)
John Russell Taylor, ‘Pasmore’s Logical Progression to Abstraction’, Times, 5 Feb. 1980, p.9 (as Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No. 3, 1948)
John Spurling, ‘Turncoat?’, New Statesman, 15 Feb. 1980, p.256 (as Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No. 3, 1948)
Frances Spalding, ‘Victor Pasmore at the Walker Art Gallery’, Burlington Magazine, vol.122, no.925, April 1980, p.281 (as Hammersmith Gardens)
Caroline Collier, ‘Victor Pasmore, Cartwright Hall, Bradford’, Apollo, vol.111, no.218, April 1980, p.333 (as Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No. 3, 1948)
Philip Midgley, ‘Abstractions’, Times Educational Supplement, 2 May 1980, p.20 (as Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No. 3, 1948)
Victor Pasmore 1950-1967, exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Dentelle de Calais 1985, p.10
Bruce Laughton, The Euston Road School: A Study in Objective Painting, Aldershot 1986, pp.294-5, repr. p.293
Ronald Alley, ‘Victor Pasmore’, Studio International, vol.195, no.991/2, 1981, p.100 (as Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No.3)
Norbert Lynton, Victor Pasmore: Nature into Art, exh. cat., Center for International Contemporary Arts, New York 1990, p.17, repr. p.16, fig.3 (as Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No.2)
Michael Shepherd, ‘Victor Pasmore’, Arts Review, vol.43, 3 May 1991, p.211

Reproduced:
Lawrence Alloway, ‘Strategic Escape’, Art News and Review, vol.6, no.6, 17 April 1954, p.4
Victor Pasmore, exh. cat., Hatton Gallery, King’s College in the University of Durham, Newcastle upon Tyne 1960
Victor Pasmore, Eduardo Paolozzi, exh. cat., Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo 1961, p.5
London Magazine, vol.11, no.7, 1962, between pp.44 and 45
Jasia Reichardt, ‘Victor Pasmore’, Cimaise, vol.10, no.63, Jan-Feb. 1963, p.29 (as ‘The Gardens of Hammersmith, 1947’)
Victor Pasmore, exh. cat. Galerie Charles Lienhard, Zurich 1963 p.[23]
Adrian Lewis, ‘British Avant Garde Painting 1945-56, part III’, Artscribe, no.36, Aug. 1982, p.15

Despite its title, The Gardens of Hammersmith No. 2 has been described as the third work in the second of Pasmore’s parallel series of paintings of the river Thames.[1] The first series, which began earlier with The Quiet River: The Thames at Chiswick, 1943-4 (Tate Gallery T00197), shows the view looking west from Upper Mall, upstream towards Chiswick Eyot. From 1942 to 1947 Pasmore lived at 16 Hammersmith Terrace, a row of Georgian houses on Chiswick Mall, the westward continuation of Upper Mall, where Hammersmith and Chiswick meet. The first painting of the second series, The Gardens of Hammersmith, 1944 (private collection, USA)[2] shows the view from his upper window looking to the south-east, across the gardens which run down from the houses and end about ten feet above the riverbank. The second painting, The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No. 1, 1944-7 (private collection)[3] shows the same view painted in a more abstract style. As well as its ironic reference to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the title may reflect Pasmore’s knowledge of Sickert’s The Hanging Gardens of Islington, 1924-6 (whereabouts unknown)[4] which is also a view of the artist’s own waterside garden. The fourth painting of the series, The Gardens of Hammersmith No. 3, 1947-9, was abandoned after the Tate’s picture was completed and remains in the artist’s collection.[5] The numbering of the paintings would appear to have been applied in retrospect, aiding the demonstration of Pasmore’s gradual development of an abstract style. One might see the third and fourth paintings as developing separate formal aspects of the same image: The Gardens of Hammersmith No. 2 is based upon its linear and solid elements, while in The Gardens of Hammersmith No. 3 the relationship of the trees to the railings is seen to relate to the spirals which were a feature of Pasmore’s work from 1948. The inscription on the canvas return of the Tate picture and its titling from 1960 to 1980 is consistent with this idea. However, the fact that The Gardens of Hammersmith No. 3 was painted, like several other depictions of the garden at Hammermsith Terrace, as though viewed from ground level may militate against the suggestion of such a series.


As its current title suggests, it may be more useful to see The Gardens of Hammersmith No.2 as one of a pair with The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No.1 rather than as part of a series. The artist wrote in retrospect that the Tate’s painting was numbered ‘2’ in relation to The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No.1, but that he changed the main title in order to distinguish them.[6] While the earlier views like The Gardens of Hammersmith, 1944 were painted from nature in Pasmore’s Impressionist style, The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No.1 and The Gardens of Hammersmith No.2 are progressively more stylised and were painted in the studio. Indeed, Bowness emphasises the artist’s preoccupation with abstract form by stating that the Tate Gallery’s work was painted in Blackheath after Pasmore had left Hammersmith in 1947. Consistent with this is the fact that The Gardens of Hammersmith No.2 is not based upon the actual view of the gardens but is, in part at least, a reversal or reflection of The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No.1. Like that work its composition was defined by a series of horizontal and diagonal lines relating to the geometrical proportions of the canvas. The pencil inscriptions visible along the exposed ground of the bottom and right hand edges verify this. The artist has confirmed that The Gardens of Hammersmith No.2 was painted some considerable time after The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No.1, indeed after he had painted his first abstract works. In his letter to the compiler he explained: ‘The second version was painted more than a year after my first abstracts ... after becoming purely abstract I tried to turn this independence back onto a landscape painting; hence the later date’.[7]


The re-dating helps to explain the signature ‘VP 49’, in the top right hand corner of the painting, at right angles to the composition. This suggests that The Gardens of Hammersmith No.2 was painted over an earlier image of the same year. The characteristic signature is visible in normal lighting conditions and especially so under infra-red light. X-Ray does not reveal an under-image, though it may be that a thinly applied picture was scraped or wiped off or successfully painted out. The thickness of the paint in the upper part of the painting would allow for this. Recently, a further possible explanation for the obscured signature has been offered: a viewer at Pasmore’s 1954 retrospective, and an active member of the ICA, who preferred to remain anonymous recalled the paint of The Gardens of Hammersmith No.2 being fresh at the time of that exhibition.[8] It may be, therefore, that the work was heavily reworked for that event.


As in The Quiet River and the later Square Motif, Blue and Gold: The Eclipse (Tate Gallery N05974), the horizon divides the composition into two equal parts. The lower part of the painting is sub-divided by diagonal lines initially drawn in pencil or charcoal but subsequently heightened in places with red oil. Some of these lines converge on a point a quarter of the way up the right hand side, others on the half way mark on the left. They serve both as compositional aids and as representations of the divisions between the successive gardens. The end of the gardens is marked by a line running from a quarter of the way up the left to the middle of the right hand edge. The trees are similarly located according to geometrical arrangements. The trunk of that on the extreme left falls on a line drawn from a point an eighth of the way up the picture’s edge to the centre of the top edge. The next tree along marks the golden section of the width of the painting, the third is exactly mid-way. The two following trees are two thirds and three quarters of the way across the picture. The angled tree on the right crosses the painting’s edge on the golden section of the height. A comparison of the work with The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No.1 reveals that the rather mysterious angular form on the left hand side was abstracted from a pergola in one of the gardens. Its vertical element describes the fourth side of a square, of which the top, bottom and right hand edges of the canvas make up the other three sides.

The feature that makes the two works so similar is the domination of both compositions by the diagonal running down from a half to a quarter of the way up the picture. In the first painting it runs down to the right, in the second to the left. However, a similar line running down to the right, visible through the paint, might suggest that Pasmore considered using the same format as in the earlier work. As it is, the reversal of the composition emphasises the formal way in which it has been generated and serves to separate the work from the actual scene still further. The change thus demonstrates Pasmore’s development of what he saw as an objective art.

In contrast to the main arrangement, some of the trees have not been reversed but are taken directly from earlier paintings. Though the tree on the left hand edge seems to be a reflection, the next two are the same as the equivalent trees in The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith No.1; the details of particular arrangements of branches signal the repetition. However, it is notable that Pasmore omitted the heavier tree that appears on the left of The Hanging Gardens and of the earlier The Gardens of Hammersmith, 1944. The distinctively sinuous forms of the tree with which it was replaced had appeared earlier in A Winter Morning, 1944 (private collection; reworked in 1946 as The Bird Garden: Winter Morning).[9] It is clear from the proximity of the tree to the back steps of the house in this earlier representation that it could not have been seen from an upper window as it is shown in The Gardens of Hammersmith No.2. Rather, the artist re-used the motif as a formal device. The slight adjustment made to the trunk of the second tree from the right suggests that, while the forms were positioned geometrically, the artist added less formal touches when he painted them. Underdrawing in the area of the branches of the trees also reveals the degree to which adjustments were made during the painting process.


It is apparent that the composition was mapped out in pencil or charcoal on an off-white ground with a considerable degree of precision. The bushes appear to have been initially sketched in with charcoal or perhaps conté crayon which was subsequently rubbed into the ground, giving a smudged, grey effect visible in places beneath the dense arrangement of dots of three or four colours. A similar effect can be seen in some of the straight compositional lines. The tree forms were painted with two tones of red-brown, the first of which was heavily diluted the second more solid. The thinner paint is diffused around its edges suggesting that the ground was wet when it was applied. This may be consistent with the smudged underdrawing. White was later loosely applied around the linear and pointillist forms. As in The Quiet River, the sky combines a range of white, pale blue and pink tones in a slightly creamy, flattened-off paint surface. Some of the compositional lines were redrawn in pencil after the main forms had been painted.

Pasmore listed this work, along with The Park (Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide)[10] and Roses in a Jar (Tate Gallery T03120) as one of his last ‘Post-Impressionist’ pieces.[11] Like The Park, and his two paintings of Cambridge, it is characterised by the use of Pointillist dots of strong colour derived from the work of Seurat. The use of geometrical compositional techniques, specifically the golden section, is equally indicative of Seurat’s influence. During the war, Pasmore had embarked upon a thorough study of the writing of the Post-Impressionists, the Cubists and other artists at the home of his friend Bryan Guinness. This process had been encouraged further by his visit to the exhibition of Picasso’s wartime paintings at the Victoria and Albert Museum in January 1946. Though Pasmore did not like the Picassos, he recognised that they marked the end of the Renaissance tradition of painting and that it was time to make a fresh start. In his paintings and collages of the next few years he can be seen to work through a variety of styles and techniques, of which the Pointillism of 1947-9 was one.


Pasmore had clearly encountered Seurat’s dictum that art should be a harmony of contrary elements of line, colour and tone. In particular, the colouring of the bushes in The Gardens at Hammersmith No.2 illustrates Seurat’s advocacy of the use of complementary colours - red-green, for instance - to achieve such a harmony. However, the artist has also discussed his late river paintings in terms of Cézanne’s ‘uniting objective and subjective factors in a dialectical relationship’.[12] It was his confusion arising out of the ambiguity of such an approach, that had led him to experiment with completely abstract works and prevented him from developing the Hammersmith theme futher.


The fact that the Tate’s painting was made in the studio away from the motif also reflects Pasmore’s reading of Post-Impressionist theory. In June 1948 he told Kenneth Clark about his refusal to accept that the idea of Impressionism was ‘dead’, despite ‘the miserable state’ to which it had sunk. He believed Impressionism’s legacy of plein air painting represented a misunderstanding of the Impressionists’ pursuit of an objective art. ‘I would like to produce impressionist pictures painted, like the Old Masters, in the studio’, he wrote.[13]


As the obscured signature on the work indicates, there has been some confusion over the dating of this painting. On its first exhibition in 1954 it was dated 1946-7 and Alan Bowness retained that in his 1960 article. On occasion, an expansive dating such as that has indicated Pasmore’s reworking of an earlier state, as seen in the case of Portrait of a Jewish Woman, 1943-6 (Tate Gallery T00602), for example. In its 1960 showing, however, it was dated 1947. From Pasmore’s 1965 retrospective until its acquisition by the Tate Gallery it was dated 1948. Though the dates of many of his works have been changed over the years, all of Pasmore’s Pointillist paintings are dated 1947 in Bowness and Lambertini except for The Park, which is 1948. Pasmore has been quoted as stating that the Hammersmith picture was ‘painted partly, if not entirely’ after he had started making abstract works;[14] this was in 1947. In 1996 the artist clarified the situation by stating that ‘1949 is the correct date’ and suggested that the confusion had arisen because he had thought ‘1948 a more logical relation to my early work’.[15]

The Gardens at Hammersmith No.2 was owned by the actress Vivien Leigh, an intimate friend of Sir Kenneth Clark; Pasmore recalled how Clark encouraged a number of his friends, including Leigh, to buy his work.[16] Clark maintained that Leigh was ‘one of the few English people [he had] known with a genuine love of painting’.[17] The executors of Leigh’s estate lent the work to Manchester City Art Gallery from 1968 to 1994.


Chris Stephens
Feb. 1998


[1] Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, with a Catalogue Raisonée of the Paintings, Constructions and Graphics 1926-1979, London 1980, p.11
[2] Repr. Clive Bell, Victor Pasmore, Harmondsworth 1945, pl.31 (col.)
[3] Repr. Bowness and Lamberti 1980, p.66
[4] Repr. Wendy Baron, Sickert, London 1973, fig.268
[5] Repr. Bruce Laughton, The Euston Road School: A Study in Objective Painting, Aldershot, 1986, p.294 and, in a reduced form, Bowness and Lambertini 1980, p.80
[6] Letter to the author, 19 Nov. 1996, Tate Gallery cataloguing files
[7] Ibid.
[8] In conversation with the director of the Tate Gallery, 16 Jan. 1997
[9] Repr. in original state Bell 1945, pl.21 and in present state, Bowness and Lambertini 1980, p.61
[10] Repr. ibid., p.77 (col.)
[11] Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, p.193
[12] Letter, 20 April 1982, quoted in Laughton 1986, p.294
[13] Letter to Kenneth Clark, 26 June 1948, Tate Gallery Archive 8812.1.2.5093
[14] Victor Pasmore, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1965
[15] Letter to the author, 19 Nov. 1996, Tate Gallery cataloguing files
[16] Interview with the author, 27 Feb. 1996
[17] Kenneth Clark, The Other Half: A Self Portrait, London 1977, p.61