Catalogue entry

T01921 OMBLA 1932

Inscribed ‘Julian Trevelyan’ 31' and ‘Ombla’ b.l.
Pencil on sheet from spiral bound sketchbook 10 5/8×13 11/16 (27×34.8)
Purchased from Alexander Postan Fine Art (Grant-in-Aid) 1974
Coll: The artist; Alexander Postan Fine Art
Exh: Nothing before Greaves or after Oxtoby, Alexander Postan Fine Art, June–July 1974 (25, repr.)
Lit: Julian Trevelyan Indigo Days, 1957, p.42–43

The following entry is based on a letter from the artist of 25 April 1975 and information provided by him in conversation on 2 May 1975.

‘Ombla’ was made in the artist's studio at 7 Villa Brune, Montparnasse, Paris, in 1932. The drawing was signed, and dated in error, 1931, in 1974.

Ombla is a small place, near Dubrovnik, which Trevelyan visited for the first time in 1932 on his second visit to Yugoslavia, when he was making a film of the vintage with Patrick Brunner and others. (Trevelyan op. cit p.42). The drawing was made on his return to Paris in a spiral bound sketchbook, the contents of which would date all from this year, including one known drawing ‘Metamorphose’. This and T01921 were removed some time ago by the artist, but the sketchbook itself probably exists somewhere in his studio.

He wrote: ‘I think the idea of the tennis came from a tennis court at Ombla. The horse and people were very much “made up”. The lattice was a feature that I was fond of at the time; originally, if I remember, it was invented to impress Humphrey Jennings of my 1931ness. (He always implied that I was very old-fashioned, as indeed I was) ... The drawings I did at this time were certainly sort of elaborated “doodles”. Again, partly in deference to Humphrey Jennings, I was not keen on lifting the pencil from the paper ... The source of this drawing, and others like it, [was] Braque's “Théogonie” which had just appeared in Cahiers d'Art. Also ... Masson, an artist that Humphrey deeply approved of. His 1931ness was simply his way of responding to the spirit of his time. I tended to do sub-Duncan Grants, and tried hard to be more contemporary.’

Some of Braque's drawings for the suite of sixteen etchings to illustrate Hesiod's Théogonie, commissioned by Vollard, were reproduced in an article by Christian Zervos: ‘George Braque et le développement du Cubisme’. (Cahiers d'Art, 7e année, 1932, pp.13–21) on page 21. Although the artist said that he had not copied the drawings as such, the imagery of the upper drawing is shared: figures, animals and horse and rider. (A note ‘En marge de la “Théogonie”’ by Pierre Gueguen (ibid. pp.390–2) is also accompanied by reproductions of two engraved plates by Braque and a pastel.)

While still at Cambridge (until 1930) Trevelyan had done a variety of drawings, some of which incorporated written words, phrases and quotations. In Paris, he and other artists would often gather at the studio of Vieira da Silva and Arpad Szènes and make automatic drawings together while gramophone records were played. These he thought of mostly as experiments, both because they were derivative and lacked a certain technical ability. Nevertheless, he developed ideas inherent in ‘Ombla’ and similar drawings in his etchings of which at least two (line and soft ground, not editioned), share the same line and imagery, but include writing, such as quotations from Jane Austen's Love and Friendship, which he heard read aloud at about this time.

However, ‘Ombla’ was not made for any specific etching and is quite independent, and this aspect of Trevelyan's work is hardly developed at all in the paintings of the same period, ‘mostly rather derivative, vaguely “surrealist” in feeling, etc.’

The lattice or grid background in ‘Ombla’ appears in the other drawing ‘Metamorphose’, and the artist remembers a smaller sketchbook, now lost, in which the drawings were made entirely with the same latticework image. The curled, scribbled, ‘filling-in’, of the lattice is a feature of other drawings from Cambridge and later, and the artist suggested its similarity to the kind of shading found in Duncan Grant's more abstract work.

Although Trevelyan said that he took his work more seriously when he returned to England in 1934, he writes in Indigo Days (op. cit p.66) in reference to paintings such as ‘A Symposium’, 1936, T00887: ‘Looking at them now, they appear to me quite decorative and valid, but I cannot identify myself with them; I look at them as if they were the work of some other younger man, which is not the way I feel about the earlier work I did in Paris [viz. T01921]. This, though obviously very immature, is most definitely mine’.

He added, furthermore, in the last paragraph of his letter: ‘I suppose the later paintings were a more or less conscious attempt to “carve out a corner for myself”, and by that time I had greater technical expertise. Don't forget that at that time I was a Jekyll and Hyde personality, and went round making watercolours of things and places that I saw.’

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978