Ivor Abrahams

The Sphinx


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Ivor Abrahams 1935–2015
Part of
Screenprint on paper
Image: 637 × 465 mm
Presented by Evelyne Abrahams, the artist's wife 1986

Catalogue entry

Group of ninety-eight screenprints, lithographs and etchings, various sizes [P11099-P11196; incomplete]

Presented by Evelyne Abrahams, the artist's wife 1986

This group of prints was bequeathed to Evelyne Abrahams by the artist's parents, Harry and Rachel Abrahams, on the understanding that she would present it to the Tate Gallery on their behalf. It represents the greater part of the artist's printmaking to date. Other works by Abrahams in the collection are a sculpture entitled ‘Lady in a Niche’, 1973 (T03369), a work on paper entitled ‘Winter Sundial’, 1975 (T02330), and a small number of prints: ‘The Garden Suite’, 1970 (P04001-P04005), ‘Sundial I (Summer)’, 1975 (P07384) and ‘Untitled’ [from the artist's book Oxford Gardens: A Sketchbook], 1977 (P08150).

Abrahams is primarily a sculptor, and many of his prints relate to particular sculptures. In the period 1967–79 Abrahams focused on garden imagery, exploring the relationship between art, artifice and nature. Many of the images used in early prints were based on small, relatively poor quality photographs of gardens reproduced in gardening magazines, such as the weekly Amateur Gardening and Popular Gardening, or, less frequently, better quality illustrations found in the series of volumes on gardens published by Country Life in the 1920s. This use of second-hand source material gives much of his printed output a conceptual quality, and links his work to Pop art. Abrahams has presented a large amount of source material relating to his printmaking of this period, including magazine clippings, photographs and sketches and acetate stencils, to the Tate Gallery Archive (TGA 8315).

The critical and commercial success of ‘The Garden Suite’ (P04001-P040054), published in 1970, helped establish Abrahams' name internationally, and in the following decade he went on to produce a significant body of prints, making approximately one print a month. The dealer Bernard Jacobson published many of his portfolios, and the Mayor Gallery organised a series of touring shows of prints and sculptures. In this period Abrahams was based in London, working at a studio in Leonard Street, EC2, from 1969 to 1982, and at the A & A Foundry in Bow from 1982 to 1992, with a second studio at Butler's Wharf from 1974 to 1979.

In 1979 Abrahams abandoned the garden theme for which he had become well known and focused instead on water-based imagery, using bathers and nymphs which were inspired in part by the landscape, myths and folk customs associated with the South of France. Abrahams and his French wife bought a home in Pézenas, in the Languedoc, in 1973, where he used the cellar as a studio. In 1988 they bought a house in the small village, Castelnau de Guers, in the same region, and have lived there on a full-time basis since 1992.

Unless otherwise stated, all quotations by the artist in the following entries are taken from a taped interview with the compiler held on 18 August 1994. The entries have been approved by the artist.

[from] Monuments 1978 [P11167-P11169]

Suite of three screenprints on wove paper, various sizes; printed by Chris Betambeau at Advanced Graphics and published by Bernard Jacobson Ltd in an edition of 100 plus 10 sets of artist's proofs of which this is no.VI
Each inscribed ‘Ivor Abrahams 78’ below image b.r. and ‘AP’ below image b.l. and stamped with the printer's stamp below image b.r.

This suite represented a turning point in Abrahams' career, the end of his interest in the garden theme and a renewed interest in the figure. In conversation with the compiler on 21 September 1994 the artist commented that the ‘Monuments’ series related to the commemorative works he executed in the late 1960s, before his garden-based works. The prints, he said, were dark in mood, and reflected a difficult phase in his artistic and personal life, where many critics and collectors thought he was mistaken in moving away from the garden imagery for which he had become well known.

P11168 The Sphinx 1978

Screenprint 637 × 465 (25 1/8 × 18 1/4) on wove paper 1022 × 688 (40 1/4 × 27 1/8)

The stone sphinx is set against green shrubs and grass, and a purple sky. The image is inspired by an ornament at Chiswick House, London, while the title relates to Edgar Allan Poe's famous story of the same name. This story inspired Abrahams to make a short film in 1976 and a print in the portfolio E.A. Poe: Tales and Poems (see entry on P11154).

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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