Victor Askew

The Studio, St John’s Wood


Not on display

Victor Askew 1909–1974
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 787 × 698 mm
frame: 1070 × 978 × 140 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1948

Catalogue entry

The Studio, St John's Wood 1948


Oil on canvas
787 x 698 (30 3/4 x 27 1/2)

Inscribed in grey oil, 'Askew', b.r.; in pencil in another hand on return of canvas, 'Modern Lots (1)'; inscribed '10/-/-' and, 'VICTOR ASKEW | 34 AVENUE ROAD | ST. JOHN'S WOOD N.W. | TITLE | STUDIO, ST. JOHN'S WOOD.' on label on back of frame

Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1948

Chantrey Purchase from the artist 1948

Royal Academy, London 1948 (65)
Exhibition of the Chantrey Collection, Royal Academy Winter Exhibition, London, Jan.-March 1949 (301)
Works from the Chantrey Collection, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, July-Sept. 1950 (1)

Victor Askew, 'A Painting Explained', Artist, vol.45, no.4, June 1953, pp.82-83, repr. in col., p.82
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, I, London 1964, pp.16-17

Landscape Paintings by Victor Askew, exh. cat., Frost and Reed, London 1949 (col.) Artist, vol.37, no.4, June 1949, p.82 (col.)

The Studio, St John's Wood shows the artist's studio at 34 Avenue Road, London NW8, where Victor Askew worked from 1947 to 1957.1 The choice of a subject close to hand is typical of the artist's work - he exhibited a painting entitled My Garden at St. John's Wood at the ROI in 1949 (298). Along with still lifes and portraits he painted landscapes in Canada, France and Spain as well as Britain. However, his work is dominated by views of his local environment in London and, most especially, of the countryside around Green Tye, the hamlet in Hertfordshire where he lived. 'Painting helps to develop in our nature a greater appreciation of the ordinary things around us', Askew wrote. 'A spot down the road that one has dismissed for years becomes design, colour, even poetry with an atmosphere of its own'.2

Askew's work varied little over the years and The Studio, St John's Wood is typical in the predominant use of a palette knife. He was described in the catalogue of his 1949 exhibition at Frost and Reed as wielding a palette knife 'like a D'Artagnan with a sword'.3 Nonetheless, certain details of the painting appear to have been made using a brush. This is confirmed in a 1953 article in which Askew used The Studio, St John's Wood as a model to describe his method of working. He wrote:

The greater part of this painting was produced with the palette knife alone. Further details were added with a sable brush when the painting was near completion. I have always tried to exploit the potentialities of the palette knife fully, thereby giving a considerable variety of textures to the painting according to its need. In this example it was used to express both atmosphere and the solidity of shapes. By atmosphere I mean the sense of light and the space around the building and even through the windows. This is especially in evidence in the sky behind the building in contrast with the solidity of the cement and brick of the building.4
The vigorous handling of the paint in The Studio, St John's Wood, especially in the sky, reveals what was described in Askew's 1949 catalogue as his 'speed and sureness of touch'. A film, made by his friend Frank Farnham and now in a private collection, of Askew at work in the late 1950s confirms that he did work quickly and with great confidence. In his 1953 article Askew wrote that 'sureness and confidence' were the qualities necessitated by his working method.

Though the impasto of the painting is too thick to tell for sure, it is likely that The Studio, St. John's Wood was painted without any underdrawing or marking out. When he recreated the initial stages of the painting for his article in The Artist, Askew did not use underdrawing. Like Frank Farnham's film, the article showed that he began a painting by applying broad strokes of paint to the plain white primed canvas, using the edge of a knife in order to define the main angles and planes of the subject. In this way, he wrote, the basic composition was marked out in terms of areas of light and dark - the planes in shadow being the first to be defined.

Askew did sometimes make preliminary studies from which he would then develop the final painting in the studio. However, it was equally characteristic of him to paint in front of the subject, completing the work in one session. His method of building up an image with broad strokes and his concern with light and dark tones and with atmosphere reflect the interest in Cézanne which he recorded in an article (source untraced) about The Lac d'Annecy, 1896 (Courtauld Institute Gallery). His concern with atmosphere and light is also reflected in his admiration of the work of Constable. It was, indeed, with his interest in atmosphere that he explained his painting of familiar subjects. Of The Studio, St John's Wood he wrote,

The first essential when approaching such a painting as this is to become thoroughly familiar with the subject. A scene like this obviously changes in atmosphere, light and shade, not only from day to day, but from hour to hour. Study the subject for a long time, quietly absorbing the scene. Then when you begin execution you will be able to concentrate immediately on the essentials that give design to your painting, such as the sharp light on the left of the building and the light on the window.5
Chris Stephens
January 1998

1 This entry has been completed with the help of John & Lottie Farnham
2 Victor Askew, Oil Painting for Everyone, c.1972
3 Landscape Paintings by Victor Askew, exh. cat., Frost and Reed, London 1949
4 Victor Askew, 'A Painting Explained', Artist, vol.45, no.4, June 1953, pp.82-83, repr. in col., p.82
5 idem.


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