Edward Wadsworth

Bronze Ballet

1940

On display at Tate Britain

Artist
Edward Wadsworth 1889–1949
Medium
Tempera on plywood
Dimensions
Support: 635 x 762 mm
frame: 796 x 920 x 85 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the artist 1942
Reference
N05380

Display caption

This harbour scene is based on Le Havre in northern France. Its apparent calm conceals a sense of anxiety. It was painted in May 1940 at Maresfield, Sussex, where Wadsworth could hear the bombardment of French ports by the advancing German forces encircling the British at Dunkirk.

Wadsworth painted many collections of marine objects like this. He was interested in animism – attributing life to inanimate objects. Here the dynamic forms of the ships’ propellers suggest a dance, while hinting at the function they will perform beyond the harbour mouth on the horizon.

Gallery label, April 2005

Catalogue entry

N05380 BRONZE BALLET 1940

Not inscribed.
Tempera on linen laid on panel, 25×30 (63·75×76).
Presented by the artist 1942.
Exh: New Movements in Art, London Museum, March–May 1942 (10); Art Exhibitions Bureau tour, Leicester, Birkenhead, Bolton, Manchester, Hull, Liverpool School of Architecture, and Doncaster, May 1942–May 1943; Tate Gallery, February–March 1951 (41).
Repr: Hesketh Hubbard, A Hundred Years of British Painting 1851–1951, 1951, pl.117.

In a letter to the Director (24 October 1942) the artist wrote that ‘“Bronze Ballet” was painted in April and May 1940 at Maresfield, Sussex - to the somewhat noisy accompaniment, so far as I can remember of the bombardment of Abbeville, Boulogne and Calais - all mingled with the call of the cuckoo! It is one of a series of many paintings done as a Le Havre series, it is in no sense a topographical view of any particular scene but all the motifs or design elements are to be found in that part and the two jetties “place” it more or less.’

Another version was purchased from the artist by Sir Arthur Bliss in 1942 (25×35 1/2 in., inscr. ‘Wadsworth 1940’ b.l.) and is now in the Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne. This was painted in March and April 1940, and is a larger and more complex composition than N05380. It is reproduced in colour in Anthony Bertram, A Century of British Painting, 1851–1951, 1951, pl.59.

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