Arthur Segal 1875-1944
T01243 Harbour on Bornholm
Inscribed '1928 A.Segal' b.l. and on the back 'Hafen von Bornholm | A.Segal' and 'Hafen von Bornholm | Arthur Segal | Charlottenburg'
Oil on millboard, 23 3/4 x 32 1/8 (60.5 x 81.5)
Presented by Miss Marianne Segal 1970
Exh: Kollektiv-Ausstellung Arthur Segal, Verein der Künstlerinnen zu Berlin, Berlin, January-February 1933 (3) as 'Bornholm' and dated 1926; Memorial Exhibition of Oil Paintings, Woodcuts, Sculpture (1894-1944) by Arthur Segal, RBA Galleries, London, September-October 1945 (289, repr.); Oil Paintings by Arthur Segal 1875-1944, Cooling Galleries, London, November 1947 (4); Paintings by Arthur Segal, RBA Galleries, London, February-March 1955 (75); Arthur Segal, RBA Galleries, London, April 1961 (25); Arthur Segal 1875-1944, B.H. Corner Gallery, London, June-July 1968 (works not listed); Arthur Segal 1875-1944, Fischer Fine Art, London, October-November 1978 (24, repr.)
Repr: Studio, C, 1930, p.131 as 'Bootshafen auf Bornholm'
A harbour on the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic. Miss Marianne Segal writes (letters of 19 and 26 June 1972) that the actual place is Gudhjem on the north coast of the island. Her father first visited Bornholm before the First World War, when he painted in an Impressionist-Expressionist style, and his only other visit was in 1930 by which time he had returned to a very personal form of naturalism and painted directly from nature. The present work was painted from a photograph taken by one of his friends and the colours were derived from coloured fountain pens which he collected.
Although 'Harbour on Bornholm' shows a continuous view (that is to say each section joins up with the ones next to it), the composition is sub-divided into four equal rectangles each of which forms a completely balanced self-contained composition with its own viewpoint. For example, the section in the top left is viewed from an eye-level more or less in line with its centre, and yet one looks steeply down onto the section beneath it, in the bottom left. At the same time the forms on which the eye is led to focus are clearly defined and crystalline in structure, whereas the surrounding areas are blurred and indistinct. Moreover each form shades from light to dark in such a way that it tends to present the maximum contrast to the areas adjacent to it.
This style was based by Segal partly on his conception of painting as a symbol of his faith in, or vision of, a world harmony (the ethical part), and partly on painting's role as a means of dealing with the visual world and its laws (the aesthetic part). In a short autobiographical note written in 1936-43 and published in the catalogue of his Memorial Exhibition in 1945, he described how he came to realise in 1916 that the convention that a composition should have a dominant point and accentuate one or more parts and subordinate others was really quite arbitrary; indeed that it was akin to the tendency of certain individuals and nations to seek to dominate others.
'From the moment this revelation came to me, art, i.e., painting, began once more to have a meaning for me. I realised that the desire for harmony and balance is inherent in art. Why must a good composition have a dominant point, so I thought. There are no dominating parts in nature, unless perhaps, if one regards only a sector. In nature everything is of equal importance and interest. That is how those pictures came into being which are divided into squares, and the frames of which are also painted. Every part was of equal importance. The eye of the spectator had to give the same attention to all parts, and the painted frame was meant to indicate that a picture is no limited section, but continues into infinite space.
'Thus optical equivalence, or to coin a word, equi-balance, was created, meant to be a symbol for the equality before the law in the realm of pictures.'
Afterwards, in 1926, he also became interested in the way an eye can focus on a particular point so that everything else appears hazy and indistinct.
'This optical problem interested me, and I painted several pictures with visual points. These pictures were the polar complement to the optically equibalanced pictures: there- no dominating section, here- a section which dominated so strongly as to drive all else into the background. There- the picture-state is the foreground, here- the section is the foreground. The two poles of social life.
'At a later time I tried to combine both poles. I painted pictures, divided in squares, but in each part a point of view. The aim was to balance the part and the whole and to find the way to express my ideal of a world harmony in painting.'
'Harbour on Bornholm', painted in 1928, is one of the pictures which combine these two preoccupations.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.678-9, reproduced p.678