Adrian Berg

Gloucester Gate, Regent’s Park, May


Not on display

Adrian Berg 1929–2011
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1775 × 1774 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1984

Display caption

This painting depicts Regent's Park, as seen from the artist's studio in Gloucester Gate. From the early 1960s until 1988, when Berg left London, this particular view of Regent's Park was one of his principal subjects. The composition of the painting does not follow conventional rules of perspective. Instead the painting may be seen, as the artist puts it, 'four ways round'. He has explained: 'Everything in the painting can be seen from my studio window. Naturally I can see through an arc of 180 degrees. In choosing to fill a square canvas with this view I have joined up what I see on the extreme left to what I see on the extreme right.'

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Adrian Berg born 1929

T03929 Gloucester Gate, Regent's Park, May 1982 1982

Oil on canvas 1775 x 1774 (69 7/8 x 69 7/8)
Inscribed ‘OIL | Adrian Berg | 5.82' on back, b.r. when orientated as illustrated
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1985
Prov: Purchased from Piccadilly Gallery by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1984
Exh: Adrian Berg, Waddington Galleries, May-June 1983 (3, repr. in col.); RA, 1985 (1246, repr. RA Illustrated, p.34); Adrian Berg Paintings 1977-1986, AC tour, Serpentine Gallery, June-July 1986, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, July-Aug. 1986, Newcastle Polytechnic Gallery, Sept.-Oct. 1986 (27)
Lit: Helena Drysdale, ‘Adrian Berg', Artscribe, no.41, June 1983, pp.14-19; Beatrice Philpotts, ‘Milton Avery/Adrian Berg Waddington Galleries', Arts Review, 35, 10 June 1983, p.313; Peter Fuller, The Naked Artist, 1983, pp.105-11; Peter Fuller, ‘Adrian Berg', in Adrian Berg, Paintings 1977-1986, exh. cat., Serpentine Gallery, 1986, pp.7-15; Silas Tomkyn Comberbache [Adrian Berg], ‘Adrian Berg, An Interview,' in ibid., pp.35-40

In an interview with himself, published in the catalogue for his Arts Council Exhibition in 1986, Adrian Berg said:

My subject is what man has made of nature. When a representative member of the great British public asks me what I paint, he is happy with the answer, ‘landscape', as it allows him to suppose I am doing nothing he wouldn't feel comfortable with, whereas the sole purpose of painting is to reveal what has not been seen. The same answer leaves a representative member of the trade unhappy, as he supposes the familiarity of the term implies a predictable product. He is unlikely to know that you can only set out from where you are and that the moment you do so you are in unknown territory (Comberbache [Berg] 1986, p.36).

T03929 was first exhibited at Waddington Galleries in 1983, together with seven other oil paintings of the same subject, all painted between 1981 and 1983: ‘Gloucester Gate, Regent's Park, Night, Autumn 1981' (no.2, repr. in col.); ‘Gloucester Gate, Regents Park, June 1982' (no.4, repr. in col.); ‘Gloucester Gate, Regents Park, October 1982' (no.9, repr. in col.); ‘Gloucester Gate, Regent's Park, November 1982' (no.10, repr.);’Gloucester Gate, Regent's Park, January 1983' (no.11, repr.); ‘Gloucester Gate, Regent's Park, December 1982' (no.12, repr. in col.); ‘Gloucester Gate, Regent's Park, February 1983' (no.13, repr. in col.). The remaining works in the exhibition were watercolours of Hampstead Heath.

From the early 1960's until he moved out of London in the Spring of 1988, Adrian Berg repeatedly turned to Regent's Park and in particular, the view of it seen from his studio in Gloucester Gate, for his main subject matter and from 1969 until 1980, when he began to travel and work further afield, images of the Park dominated his painting (for examples, see the catalogues for his one-man exhibitions held at Arthur Tooth and Sons in 1964, 1967, 1969, 1972, 1975, at the Rochdale Art Gallery in 1980, and for his Arts Council touring exhibition in 1986).

As a very young child, Berg lived at Ormonde Terrace N.W.8., facing Primrose Hill (see Fuller 1986, pp.7-8). In another earlier interview with himself, (Silas Tomkyn Comberbache [Adrian Berg], ‘Adrian Berg, An Interview' in Adrian Berg, Paintings 1955-1980, exh. cat., Rochdale Art Gallery, 1980) Berg acknowledged the importance of this early proximity to Regent's Park, ‘I think it had its effect. I've come back to live in this corner of the park' (p.12). Berg returned to this part of London as an adult, living and working in a flat leased from The Crown Estates at 8 Gloucester Gate, in a Nash Terrace on the outer circle of Regent's Park. It was here that T 03929 was painted.

Between 1985 and 1988 he took another studio, ‘Like the old one, it is a fair-sized well proportioned room, looking at a height out across Regent's Park.' (Comberbache [Berg] 1986, p.35).

Before concentrating on the landscape as a source of imagery, Berg had already experimented with incorporating ideas about time in his pictures, using grid formats and multiple imagery. He has said of his early work:

I tried to make use of the passage of time that a multiple image suggests to paint music, but without success. This subject gave place to mathematics, which was a bit better. Dance was another. More successful than these were attempts to paint narrative, albethey transcriptions. The multiple image turned out to be most useful for painting landscape, which is possibly why I'd come to do it in the first place. It became possible to assemble a landscape rather than record whatever was on offer at any one time and in any one place (Comberbache [Berg] 1980, p.14).

Peter Fuller has pointed out that because Berg carried over certain devices or elements from his earlier paintings, his later landscapes were ‘never ordered according to the received conventions of focused perspective, but rather through multiple imagery, which allowed for the inclusion of many experiences common in life, but rare in a single painting, e.g. the experience of the same landscape over a long period of time' (Fuller 1986, p.10).

Fuller has also referred to Berg's paintings of around 1964, before Regent's Park dominated his subject matter, as revealing ‘an intuitive involvement with the concepts of contemporary science' and identifies in these early works ‘a cultural and analytical concern with empirical experience, and what it tells us about ourselves and the world, an attitude which was to be carried over even into Berg's most intuitive landscapes' (ibid., p.8).

According to Fuller, Berg first tried to paint the view from his window in Gloucester Gate in 1962. His first exhibition at the Arthur Tooth Gallery in 1964 contained four paintings of Regent's Park (‘Regent's Park, April 1964' no.6, repr; ‘Regent's Park, Jan/Feb 1963' no.5, repr; ‘Regent's Park, August 1964' no.3; ‘Regent's Park, Aug/Feb 1964' no.12.) The two landscape works illustrated are both based on grids. In Berg's second one man exhibition at Tooth in 1967 he again exhibited landscape paintings alongside other subjects (for example a painting based on maps, ‘Europe by Rail' 1966, no.10, repr.), one related to the Fibonacci number series ‘Five' 1965, no.14, repr. and allegorical subjects. Most of the works appear to have been based on squared up, grid compositions.

The first exhibition to be devoted entirely to painting from the landscape was held in 1969 (Adrian Berg, Recent Paintings of Gloucester Gate, Regent's Park, Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd., Feb.-March 1969.) The catalogue reproduces multiple viewpoint and grid based paintings but also two almost square fixed viewpoint compositions.

Commenting on these works some years later, Peter Fuller wrote:

In many of these, the fractured framing of the picture surface was more complicated, and more pronounced, than ever before. Some of these canvases contain their own time, in much the same way that, in certain medieval paintings, different episodes of the same story appear within a single landscape; only in Berg's case, there are no figures, and it is the landscape which changes. Perhaps we should not exaggerate the conceptual aspect of these divisions. One advantage of this compositional convention is simply that the grid enabled Berg to assemble a landscape, but in a way which did not exclude the immediacy and freshness of perceived moments. All this perhaps helps to explain one of the paradoxes of his Gloucester Gate paintings: although they seem to reflect that sense of fragmentation, and transitoriness, which we associate with modern consciousness, we also feel that Berg has somehow patterned his momentary perceptions into new, and rhythmically satisfying, wholes (Fuller, 1986, p.10).

The works in the one-man exhibition (again at Tooth) in 1972 represented a similar range of approaches. In the article cited, Helena Drysdale has suggested that in ‘3 Gloucester Gate' 1970 (illustrated on the catalogue cover for the 1972 exhibition),’the grid [had] grown into large window frames and parts of the room that often obscure the view itself, space oscillating between interior and exterior, to create cubist facetting'. As Helena Drysdale points out, Berg had abandoned grids and frames by 1977 and instead painted the same view ‘each month from February to June in five horizontal strips' (Drysdale 1983, p.17). He also left his studio in 1974 and went into the landscape, painting single images, directly from nature. From 1969 he had been making wide angle, horizontal views. These scroll-like views were then used in a new way. Berg began to assemble paintings out of the panoramic views, joining up the ‘scrolls' on square canvases so that the view appears in an all embracing 360° plan. The artist has commented on the origins of these works:

It began when I ceased to be a sub-tenant at Gloucester Gate and became tenant. The date of the lease was that of my fortieth birthday. I moved to the floor above my studio. It had a balcony and access to the roof. The view was more extensive. The pictures I did got wider to accommodate the sweep, and narrower to exclude the sky, like panoramas. This format is demanding of space, while diffuse in effect. The format that's most economical of space and concentrated in effect is the square. The first of these to come off could be read two ways up, adjacent sides, looking as it happened West and North. Later I managed all four ways. In the spring of 1983 I did a series looking three ways.

Berg went on to comment that the viewer may turn his pictures round.

He can. I was doing so. There is always a best way up, though it isn't always obvious. I have changed my mind as to this in the course of painting a picture (Comberbache [Berg] 1986, p.39).

It is to this group of works that T03929 belongs.

Helena Drysdale has written of the Gloucester Gate paintings of 1978-82:

If the maps and multiples are about fragmentation, then these are about overcoming fragmentation, a sort of ecstatic, all-embracing oneness with nature. ‘Gloucester Gate, Regents Park, 1978' is an exhilarating panoramic view over the roofs and chimneys of Gloucester Gate ... There is some awkwardness in the joining up of different sections, ... But this has been resolved in later work such as ‘Gloucester Gate, June 1982', shown recently at Waddington's. While maintaining the air of composition, this picture is more relaxed and spontaneous, bursting out from the centre, the slightly toy-town houses now swallowed up in luxuriant summer foliage. Shimmering movement in the trees is created by Bonnardesque juxtaposition of yellow-green against emerald and viridian, pink against darker pink, nervous dabbing brushmarks against looser strokes that fan and swirl out towards the edges of the canvas. The bright white ground gleams through the thinned and overlaid paint in an iridescent glitter. ‘Gloucester Gate, Night, 1981/2' has the enclosed secrecy of a Persian miniature: these paintings are not to be read, like his [Berg's] multiples, but explored. Access through the dense thickets is always denied however; while seeming to welcome you in, space flattens sharply and skids off into the distance on all sides. In much the same way in ‘Gloucester Gate, July 1981' [also shown at Waddington in 1983] Berg himself draws in closer to paint minutiae - trees as giant leaves and hexagonal cell patterns - while paradoxically distancing the viewer with the near-abstract flat pattern. Like Islamic carpets, these patterns have complex perspective devices of their own which provide the detachment and elegant control Berg needs (Drysdale 1983, pp.18-19).

In 1980 Berg wrote:

On dull days I don't wish to look out, so I look in and attend to the formal problems of painting - what people who are not artists probably mean when they use the term "abstract". These get neglected looking only at nature. Even Monet when just an impressionist suffers from poor composition. Composition like compost is a perennial. In repeating an image I've had on my hands not so much a composition as a pattern. The flatness of most pattern, as in say a Persian garden carpet, is relieved by the perspectives one makes walking towards and across it. The same carpet on a wall is as boring as anything in the Tate. Something designed to be seen on a wall has to be supplied with its own perspective devices, and these have to be harmonious with the direct flatness of painting (Comberbache [Berg] Rochdale 1980 p.16).

In a letter to the compiler, 19 June, 1988, the artist confirmed that he worked on T03929 on 13, 16, 17, 19, 20, 22, 25, 29, 30 May and 5, 6, 13, 14, 20, 27, 28 June 1982 and wrote:

Everything in the painting can be seen from my studio window. Naturally I can see through an arc of 180°. In choosing to fill a square canvas with this view I have, as it were, doubled the number of degrees, and joined what I see on the extreme left to what I see on the extreme right.

There are two drawings for your painting which I have. They were done from the balcony above my studio and are dated 8th May 1982 and are reproduced on page 6 of the 1986 Serpentine catalogue. Your work was preceded by an April painting of the same subject and size [not repr.] and succeeded by a June painting of the same subject and size, [repr. Adrian Berg, Waddington Galleries, 1983, no.4].

Adrian Berg has confirmed that there is a close resemblance between T03929 and a later work, ‘Gloucester Gate, Regents Park, May 1984,' (repr. Adrian Berg, Paintings 1977-86, exh. cat., fig.42, Alkinson Art Gallery, Southport):

Both pictures have not only the same subject and size but the same month: the Spring peak of May. In the intervening Spring of 1983, I painted April, May and June paintings of the same subject that were again square but somewhat smaller (60" x 60") and could be seen three ways up, not four. The 1984 painting didn't develop directly out of its predecessor(s). Once again it was Spring and once again I made an attempt to catch the late blossom, as in brushwork and colour it is, but in design it seems to be based on the second drawing of 8th May 1982, as is your work.

When previously exhibited the date of T03929 has appeared as part of the title, however, the artist has said that 1982 is not a part of the title and should be separated from it in print.

The Serpentine and Royal Academy catalogues listed reproduce T03929 different ways up. In a letter to the compiler (28 June 1988) Berg made the following observations about the correct orientation of T03929:

I think the best way up is the way its printed in the Waddington 1983 catalogue ... The reason I misremembered is that as the drawing for it shows, [repr. cited above], I had tried to paint it the opposite way round.
This conclusion is only an optimum. It can be seen 4 ways round. Not surprisingly, as it was painted 4 ways round, though I would think mainly in the 2 ways that have been in contention. [Serpentine catalogue and R.A. Illustrated, cited]. This conclusion of mine is a further reason for the 1984 painting, [cited] when I succeeded in getting it to look best the way I had intended, as in the drawing.
What all this suggests to me is that I should do this sort of painting, if at all, then without turning the canvas round other than (as is customary) to look at it!

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.93-6

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