Catalogue entry

T00439 ‘DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT’ 1956

Inscr. ‘Ceri Richards '56’ b.r.
Canvas, 42×28 (106·5×71).
Presented by Abris Silberman through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1961.
Coll: Purchased from the artist by Abris Silberman 1956.
Exh: An Exhibition of Contemporary British Art, E. and A. Silberman Galleries, New York, October–November 1956 (25, and repr.), same exhibition shown at the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina, July–August 1957.
Lit: David Thompson, Ceri Richards, 1963, n.p. and repr.

The painting is one of a series of three inspired by Dylan Thomas's poem ‘Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night’, published in Collected Poems, 1934–52, 1952, p.116. The artist wrote to the compiler (17 July 1961) that 'I was first asked to make a drawing based on this poem... by John Berger - and I did several - I did the one he specifically asked for and he had another besides - then others are in Private Collections - but there is a drawing in the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester - and I have a few in my studio.

'The poem is a very fine one and my interpretation seemed to impress and intrigue Berger for he later suggested I did a large painting. What you describe is wrong it is not supposed to be an old man - just man - the poet maybe - for the owl is holding a shroud which in some drawings is covered with handwriting and from this shroud the figure falls into the deep unknown.

‘ “Rage Rage against the dying of the light” may be in the nature of protest - but futile. This line coming at the end of each stanza seemed to me to affirm the futility of protest and affirmation. Our works we leave behind us.’

The pencil, watercolour and black ink drawing in the Whitworth Art Gallery is dated October 1955, and the shroud does, in fact, bear handwriting. The figure of the falling man appears to be fairly youthful. The Tate version was probably the last to be painted, being preceded by the small oil of 1955 belonging to the Hon. Mrs Lucille Frost, and by that of 1956 the same size as T.439, ex-collection Abris Silberman, sold at Sotheby's, 12 July 1961 (156), and purchased by Marlborough Fine Art Ltd. In the Tate picture all the elements are resolved into a grandly scaled, simple and fluently brushed-in composition.

Vernon Watkins notes (Dylan Thomas, Collected Poems, p.182) that ‘Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night’ and ‘Elegy’ (the poet's last work) were written for Dylan Thomas's father. At present (1964) Ceri Richards is working on lithograph illustrations to Dylan Thomas's poems.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II