Prunella Clough

Broken Gates


Not on display

Prunella Clough 1919–1999
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1842 × 1678 × 20 mm
frame: 1882 × 1722 × 52 mm
Presented anonymously 1997

Display caption

Prunella Clough is one of Britain's most respected painters and this year's recipient of the prestigious Jerwood Prize for painting. Her career has spanned five decades, from her first solo show at the Leger Galleries in 1947, to her recent exhibition at Kettle's Yard in Cambridge. Hovering between abstraction and figuration, Clough's paintings frequently feature a single, identifiable urban or industrial motif within a softer, indeterminate background. 'Broken Gates' is one of several works painted between 1980 and 1982, featuring gates or wire mesh. Fascinated by the effect of man-made objects upon the land, here Clough has set gate motifs against a background of earth colours. The gates act as frames through which the industrial landscape can be imagined.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Technique and condition

The painting was executed on a single piece of medium weight linen canvas which has been attached to a softwood stretcher with wire staples at the edges and back. The stretcher is rather flimsy and is readily twisted out of plane. The canvas was commercially primed, probably with a thin layer of animal glue size followed by a thin layer of a white pigmented ground layer which has not masked the underlying canvas weave texture. Perhaps most intriguing about this work is that there is another painting (probably unfinished) on the reverse, which has an artist's applied priming on it. Although the canvas has been stretched up at least once before for the painting of the rear composition, there do not appear to be any additional tack or staple holes. The precise chronology of the front and back pieces is still unclear. However, the lack of any previous tacking holes suggest that the painting has been cut down at some point. One possible scenario would be that the front painting was started first on this larger format using the primed side of the canvas. Then this was reversed and the rear painting was begun, but the artist returned to the original painting by cropping it to its present dimensions and stretching it onto the present stretcher. The artist has been consulted to clarify this.

The painting was executed in oil paints and apart from the bright red and orange paint used along the right edge, a very limited palette was used, consisting of white and a black, or dirty earth colours. The paint was applied exclusively by brush, first with a slightly textured white paint, which was then covered with a highly diluted black/dirty earth colour on top. In some areas, this second layer of paint almost has the consistency of a wash. Most of the surface is subsequently very dry and matt in appearance, apart from the thicker bright red and orange paints which have the consistency and surface characteristics more typical of an unmodified oil tube paint.

The painting is not varnished. The painting is still in very good condition, despite the presence of three scratches near the bottom of the painting, each approximately 3 cm long. These were recently repaired and retouched. The presence of a coherent layer of priming or paint on the reverse has given the canvas additional protection against the detrimental effects of the environment. However, in order to give the painting the appropriate level of support and ultimately to prevent the early onset of cracking, the stretcher will be reinforced, perhaps by the replacement of the frame with a stronger one but of similar appearance.

Tom Learner
October 1997

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