Prunella Clough

Rockery, 1963


Prunella Clough 1919–1999
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 660 × 508 mm
frame: 805 × 654 × 50 mm
Purchased 1964


Rockery, 1963 is an oil painting on canvas by the British artist Prunella Clough. The colour palette combines earthy tones that range from dark brown to light beige; a palette that dominated Clough’s artistic practice and that the artist described as ‘muffled, tonal, and murky’ (Prunella Clough, ‘Interview with Bryan Robertson, 1982’, reprinted in Tufnell 2007, p.43). As the painting’s title suggests, Rockery, 1963 depicts a type of garden in which plants grow amongst an arrangement of heaped, rough stones interspersed with soil. Various hues of light beige paint have been applied to the canvas in thin layers around the top, left and bottom edges of the canvas, as well as in selected areas at the centre of the painting, while the dark brown paint is more heavily layered, creating a thick, textured, curved outline which encloses other textured shapes that broadly represent rocks and stones.

Rockery, 1963 was made in 1962–3, most likely in London, where the artist lived and worked for much of her life. Clough stated in an interview in 1982 that she saw her ‘subject matter mainly as landscape’, and she painted both natural and industrial urban landscapes. The artist explained further that she preferred to walk through the places which she chose to depict because ‘the sense of place is crucial for me and involves sensations other than the purely optical ones of observation’ (Clough in Tufnell 2007, p.43). She did sketch or draw directly from the scene, however, but rather used her memory of the place when eventually making her paintings, occasionally also taking photographs on location to serve as aids to recollection (see Clough in Tufnell 2007, p.43–4). Some of the British landscapes Clough visited frequently and from which she drew inspiration included those of Dorset, Wiltshire, Derbyshire, the Yorkshire Moors, Northumberland and the Scottish Highlands, as well as the cities and the tidal wastelands around Essex and Kent, the docks of London and other areas in the capital such as Battersea, Wandsworth, Willesden, Harlesden and Neasden (see Margaret Garlake, ‘Fishermen and Velvet Kebabs: Prunella Clough’s Subjects’, in Tufnell 2007, pp.100–2).

After she visited The New American Painting exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London in 1959, which included artworks by abstract expressionist painters such as Philip Guston, Robert Motherwell and Clyfford Still, Clough’s work became more abstract (see Garlake 2007, p.104). Besides the formal considerations in her work, the art historian Catherine Spencer suggests that Clough’s ‘sophisticated fusion of realist ciphers with ambiguous abstraction during the late 1950s and 1960s can be approached as a highly nuanced response to the uncertainties of the Cold War context’ (Spencer 2014, p.171).

Further reading
Ben Tufnell (ed.), Prunella Clough, London 2007, reproduced p.59, pl.21.
Catherine Spencer, ‘Covert Resistance: Prunella Clough’s Cold War “Urbscapes”’, in Catherine Jolivette (ed.), British Art in the Nuclear Age, Farnham 2014, pp.171–94.

Natasha Adamou
May 2016

Supported by Christie’s.

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Display caption

Clough’s early work depicted people at work and the urban landscape. Later she became regarded largely as an abstract painter, but her work always kept a figurative base, as if observation and experience had been filtered through memory. She was fascinated by the ‘edginess’ of form, the sudden intrusion of hard shapes into softer areas.

Gallery label, October 2016

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Catalogue entry

Prunella Clough b. 1919

T00691 Rockery, 1963 1962–63

Inscr. ‘Clough’ b.l.
Canvas, 26 x 20 (66 x 51).
Purchased from the Grosvenor Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1964.
Exh: Grosvenor Gallery, September–October 1964 (17).

The artist wrote (19 November 1964) that the picture was begun in London in 1962. and finished in 1963.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1964–1965, London 1966.


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