Catalogue entry

Gerald Wilde 1905-1986

T03893 The Marriage of Heaven and Hellc.1966-71

Gouache and pastel on paper 1530 x 2123 (60 1/4 x 83 1/2)
Inscribed ‘WILDE' b.r.
Purchased from October Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Prov: Beshara Trust; private collection; purchased by October Gallery
Exh: G. Wilde, October Gallery, Feb.-March 1979 (1); Gerald Wilde, Works from 1929-1981, October Gallery, Feb.-March 1981 (39, repr. in col. on cover); Gerald Wilde, October Gallery, March- April 1984 (65, repr. in col. on card)
Lit: Bill Boyd in G. Wilde, exh. cat., October Gallery, 1979; Flash Allen in Gerald Wilde, Works from 1929-1981, exh. cat., October Gallery, 1981, pp.1-2; Flash Allen, ‘Wilde: A Viewpoint' in Chili Hawes (eds.), Gerald Wilde, 1988, pp.10-13, repr. p.4. Also repr: Man, Earth and the Challenges, (detail, repr. on cover) 1980; E. Lucie-Smith, ‘A Hayward Annual', Artscribe, no.29, June 1981, p.22.

The drawing was enlarged by the artist while it was being made, and an extra L-shaped piece of cartridge paper added to give more space at the left, and slightly more at the top. This addition adds very little to the composition, only a continuation of the black lines and a black and red area at the left, and some more red sky at the top. The figures were drawn onto the original sketch within a grid that already left an area of sky, and the black and yellow ‘suns'.

‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell' was probably the first work completed by Wilde after a long break from the mid 1950s when he did not paint. It is not known for certain, however, when it was begun. In the catalogues of the three exhibitions at the October Gallery it was dated ‘1971-2' apparently with his acceptance, but he was not interested in such details, and it may have been started several years before this.

In 1962-3 Wilde went to live with the community organised by John Bennett (c.1901-74) at Coombe Springs, Kingston-on-Thames. He was able to stay there for a short time after the house was sold in early 1966, but then lived in south west London until 1972, apparently again not painting during this time (reported by John Best, unpublished biographical note of 1972 on Gerald Wilde, Tate Gallery files). He then returned to live at Sherborne House, Gloucestershire, where John Bennett had opened a college (see Bennett's autobiography, Witness1975, which does not, however, mention Wilde). ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell' was completed in the studio Wilde used in the stables at Sherborne (there is a photograph of him with the poet Tambimuttu in this studio in 1981, reproduced in the 1988 booklet, p.5). Sally Harrison, who worked with John Bennett in both places, remembered (in a conversation on 25 March 1988) the drawing at Wilde's studio at Coombe Springs, so that it must have been begun not later than 1966, and she thought it possible that it had been made particularly for John Bennett.

The title is taken from the illuminated book made by William Blake in 1789-90, and it is probable that the content of Wilde's drawing is associated with the ideas of both Blake and John Bennett. The illuminations of Blake's ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell' do not have any connection with Wilde's drawing, except in the colouring, where both have similar tones of red, yellow and blue. The Blake scholar Desirée Hirst, who knew Wilde, reported (in a letter of 18 April 1988) that he never discussed this book with her, even though he knew of her interest. She thought that Blake's theme in the book - ‘Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence' (p.3) - was nevertheless relevant to Wilde's presentation of a confrontation between opposites.

It is possible that the drawing is an interpretation of one of Blake's ‘memorable fancies' which he did not illustrate (‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell' introduction by Sir Geoffrey Keynes, 1975, pls. 17-20). Blake imagines that he and an angel are looking into a void ‘fiery as the smoke of a burning city' with the ‘sun, black but shining', and sees devils in the form of black and white spiders. Blake asks:

...which was my eternal lot?
he said between the black and white spiders.

The narration of Blake's text is not followed in the drawing by Wilde, but this may be the source of the unusual insect-like figures that do not appear in Wilde's other works. The extent to which this and other later drawings and pastels by Wilde are indebted to the theories of John Bennett is difficult to estimate. Bennett was a follower of the Russian mystic Gurdjieff (1877-1949). He sometimes used simple diagrams to explain ideas such as the opposition of two forms to produce a third, and such diagrams might have graphic equivalents in Wilde's work. The director of the October Gallery, Chilli Hawes, believes that there were very few connections with Wilde's paintings, but on the other hand Desirée Hirst and Sally Harrison believe that Wilde was closely involved. A description of the painting by Flash Allen, which was published in the October Gallery catalogue in 1981, was read and liked by the artist (as reported in a letter from Flash Allen, 5 April 1988):

‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell', lines dancing together by the forces of attraction and repulsion, a continual explosive self-contained energy generator. Two distinct forms, nearly mirror images are united in a common bond by the bridge-like shape at the center. The left side a door or a wall; the red figure emerges from it, but is still connected to whatever lies beyond. The two figures grapple, never touching, never parting, united by the eternal contract that dangles between them. While the earth floats hazily in the background, these two demiurgic powers confront each other over its fate. The black moon to the upper left forever whipsaws the earth with its relentless gravitational pull. A battle of color and direction (p.3).

This interpretation of the painting as an ‘energy generator' was corroborated by Sally Harrison (conversation of 6 April 1988), who recalled that Bennett had asked Wilde to make it as an illustration for the cover of his book ‘Energies'. The Coombe Springs community closed before the book was published, and the drawing was then not used for the cover, but it would not in any case have been Wilde's intention specifically to illustrate any part of the book, only the general idea of ‘Energies'. She considered that Wilde's later work was often related to Bennett's theories, and remembered him making a painting for a particular lecture by Bennett at Sherborne House, which was displayed and discussed.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.295-7