Sir William Coldstream

On the Map


Not on display

Sir William Coldstream 1908–1987
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 508 × 508 mm
frame: 582 × 582 × 50 mm
Purchased 1980

Display caption

In this picture Coldstream shows fellow-artist Graham Bell standing holding a map, and his friend Igor Anrep sitting on the ground. Seen from behind, they look out across the landscape, apparently unaware of the painter’s presence. This conceit recalls such paintings as Degas’s Femme à sa Toilette, which Coldstream had praised for its ‘unbiased observation’. Such observation was to be a fundamental part of his painting from 1937 onwards.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Oil on canvas, 510 x 510 mm (20 x 20 in)
Purchased from Anthony d’Offay Ltd (Grant-in-Aid) 1980

Acquired from the artist by Kenneth Clark, by whom given to his son Colin Clark by 1962 and sold to the Lefevre Gallery, London from whom purchased by Anthony d’Offay Ltd., London 1976

London Group 36th Exhibition, London, Oct.-Nov. 1937 (246)
An Exhibition of Paintings by Members of the Euston Road Group, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, May-June 1941 (4)
Exposição de Pintura Britânica Contemporânea, British Council tour of South America, Galeria Prestes Maia, São Paolo, Nov. 1943, Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes, Rio de Janeiro, Salone de la Asociacion Estimulo de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, June 1944 ?and other venues (14, as Fora do Mapa [Off the Map])
Euston Road School and Others, Wakefield City Art Gallery, May-June 1948, Harrogate, Sheffield, Brighton (20, as Off the Map)
Euston Road School, Arts Council tour, York City Art Gallery, Sept.-Oct. 1948, Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, Oct.-Nov., Coleg Harlech, Nov.-Dec., Manchester City Art Gallery, Dec. 1948-Jan. 1949, Doncaster Art Gallery and Museum, Jan., Lewis Textile Museum, Blackburn, Feb. 1949 (11, pl.1)
William Coldstream, South London Art Gallery, April-May 1962 and Arts Council tour, Leeds University, June, Bristol City Art Gallery, July, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea, Aug., Southampton Art Gallery, Sept., Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Sept.-Oct. 1962 (14)
The Thirties: British Art and Design Before the War, Hayward Gallery, London, Oct. 1979-Jan. 1980 (22.2, repr. in col. p.41)
The Paintings of William Coldstream 1908-1987, Tate Gallery, London, Oct. 1990-Jan. 1991 and South Bank tour: Newport Art Gallery and Museum, Jan.-March 1991, Castle Museum, Norwich, April-May, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, May-June (11, repr. in col. p.51)
Années 30 en Europe: Le Temps Menaçant 1929-1939, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Feb.- May 1997 (section VI, as En Vedette)

Claude Rogers, ‘William Coldstream: Painter’, Studio, vol.163, no.829, May 1962, p.168
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, pp.70-1, repr.
Bruce Laughton, The Euston Road School: A Study in Objective Painting, Aldershot 1986, pp. 124, 156, repr. p.125, fig.74
Peter T.J. Rumley, ‘Sir William Coldstream: Catalogue Raisonné 1926-83 and Artistic Career 1908-45’, unpublished D.Phil thesis, University of Sussex, 1986, pp.20-22, 219, pl.28
Richard Cork, ‘Edge of the Map’, Listener, 8 Nov. 1990, p.33, repr.

Frances Spalding and Judith Collins, Dictionary of British Art Volume VI: 20th Century Painters and Sculptors, Woodbridge 1990, p.123
Martin Postle, ‘Sir William Coldstream Remembered’, Apollo, vol.133, no.344, Oct. 1990, p.248 (col.)
Tim Fargher, ‘Art’, Harpers and Queen, Nov. 1990, p.50 (col.)
Paddy Kitchen, ‘Doubting Certainty’, Country Life, 8 Oct. 1990, p.114 (col.)

Less a landscape than a figure group, On the Map shows two men looking at a view with the aid of a map. An earlier Tate Gallery catalogue entry identified the two men as the painter Graham Bell (standing) and Igor Anrep, and the location as near Baylham, Suffolk.[1] Close by, just out of the painting to the right, was Helen Anrep’s home Rodwell House, which she had shared with the critic Roger Fry before his death in 1934. William Coldstream was a regular visitor to Rodwell following his first meeting with Mrs Anrep and Fry in 1932 and this work was executed in situ while he and Graham Bell were staying in 1937.

Igor Anrep recalled Coldstream staying at Rodwell ‘for ages’ while painting On the Map,[2] confirming the artist’s assertion that the painting would have taken at least fifteen sessions ‘of two hours or more’.[3] Photographs in Anrep’s collection and Bell’s correspondence indicate that the two painters went there towards the end of August and stayed for five or six weeks. Bell described their working regime to his family:

I am in the country working very hard at painting. I have now been here a month ... We lead a highly moral life, bed at 10.30 and up at 6.30 and for the last three weeks I have averaged 7 hours painting a day ... By ten Bill and I set out for our painting, carrying enormous piles of apparatus. We work there till 1.30 ... After lunch we drink coffee on the lawn and rest for about half an hour before starting work again ... After tea Bill and I go out to work till the sun goes down at 8.[4]

Coldstream explained that On the Map was painted from the motif, in common with all of his paintings, and that he would occasionally ask Bell to break off from his own painting to pose with the map. Bell was nearby, looking in a different direction, working on his Suffolk Landscape (private collection),[5] which was acquired by Kenneth Clark along with On the Map. A comparison of the two works reveals that the straight line in the background of the Coldstream is a railway, an element that featured in another painting he made during the same stay in Suffolk, At the Window, 1937 (private collection).[6] This was a portrait of Anastasia Anrep which he described at the time as ‘a small painting of a girl looking out of a window at a railway embankment’.[7] He later classified this and On the Map as two of the three ‘non-portraits’ amongst the eleven paintings he had executed during the year from April 1937; the third was Sleeping Cat, 1938 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford).[8]

Though Coldstream’s contemporary descriptions of On the Map imply no specific theme, the particularity of the subject and the poses of the figures lend it the quality of narrative. The rear-view is reminiscent of the feigned objectivity of Degas that Coldstream had commented on a few years earlier when he praised the ‘unbiased observation’ of such works as the Tate’s Woman at her Toilet, c.1894 (Tate N04711).[9] A concept of disinterested vision was a fundamental basis of Coldstream’s work from the time of his resumption of full-time painting in April 1937 until his death.

The map adds a specificity to the work that Coldstream related to the poetry of his friend W.H. Auden, then a dominating figure in English literature, but may also be seen more generally in relation to the changing role of the countryside in British culture. The artist told the Tate Gallery that when he painted On the Map he ‘had vaguely in mind Auden’s poetry of topography and geography’.[10] Though he was hesitant to associate it with a particular poem, he mentioned the first line of ‘On This Island’ (1936) - ‘Look, stranger, on this island now’ - as a possible influence.[11] Less specifically, Auden repeatedly used the imagery of a ‘bird’s eye view’, particularly in his first volume, Poems, published in 1930. More pertinent, perhaps, to On the Map is the opening of verse four of ‘Half Way’, in which the admonition ‘Now look at this map’ is followed by such topographical symbols as colour-coded roads, ‘Crossed swords ... for battlefields, [and] gothic characters | For places of archaeological interest’.[12] Or one may cite a section of one of Auden and Louis MacNiece’s Letters from Iceland (London 1937) that they addressed to Coldstream:

“O who can ever gaze his fill”,

Farmer and fisherman say,

“On native shore and local hill,

Grudge aching limb or callus on the hand?[13]

Both Auden’s use of topographical imagery and Coldstream’s painting may be seen in relation to the growth of interest in rural Britain during the 1930s. The association with maps and orientation is especially suggestive of the new expansion of internal tourism, partly the result of widening car ownership and more leisure time, which saw a broader section of society travelling within Britain. Increasingly in that period the countryside was being seen as an object of the gaze, as is indicated by the proliferation of guide books exemplified by E.H. Morton’s In Search of England (London 1927, 23rd ed. 1936) Similarly, the landscape was seen as a depository of past culture, as is clear from the two extracts from Auden’s poems and from the interest shown in neolithic sites by artists such as John Piper.[14] Thus, the countryside and the past that it embodied were incorporated into a vision of modern Britain. Though not apparently in the artist’s mind, the conjunction of the railway and what has been identified as Shrublands, the park of Lord de Saumarez, beyond adds a particular accent to such considerations. In this way, On the Map may be seen in relation to what has been identified as ‘the emergence of ... a Modernist re-working of the traditions of topography’ by artists such as Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland in the 1930s.[15]

The map, a two-dimensional rationalisation of the external world, may also be seen to relate metaphorically to Coldstream’s empirical painting technique. His use of diligent measuring and marking to plot the position of his subject in space has been discussed in terms of a system of mapping the visual evidence.[16] Similarly, the process of locating oneself that is depicted in On the Map may be compared with the more personalised self-definition that has been identified in Coldstream’s work. David Sylvester has discussed his approach and methods in phenomenological terms, implying that the artist’s obsessive plotting of his subject is an attempt to define his own position in the world. His technique is, Sylvester proposed, ‘symptomatic of a concern that a respectful distance must be maintained between himself and things outside, a need to know precisely where they stand in relation to him, so that he can be sure of their apartness from him. And this apartness is perhaps the theme of his art, this unremitting insistence on the otherness of other beings and things’.[17] However, this reading might be undermined by the lack of definition between Coldstream’s figures and their surroundings - the boundaries between them consistently being blurred.

Coldstream’s characteristic analytical techniques are evident in this work, which is painted in small brushmarks - diagonal in the large tree and the figures, vertical in the grass and the tree on the right. Underdrawing is not obvious and several compositional changes have been made, most notably to the position of the legs of the standing left-hand figure. Typically, the paint is built up in several thin layers; in the foreground they are progressively richer, while in the tree they get lighter, so that the patches of light, signifying the view through to the field, appear to sit on the surface of the picture and so emphasise its flatness.

It is not clear how Kenneth Clark acquired On the Map. He had already bought a number of Coldstream’s works, including the portraits of Anastasia Anrep and W.H. Auden, but the situation may have been different in this case as its execution coincided with the establishment of a new means of support for Coldstream. Early in 1937 Clark had been sent ‘A Plan for Artists’ by Coldstream and Graham Bell, a proposal for a system of funding by means of which artists could work free from the economic anxiety which, they believed, forced painters towards decorative, expressionist or formulaic working methods. They proposed that a number of benefactors should guarantee a bank overdraft in favour of each artist in the scheme. At the end of a year, each artist would have an exhibition and any proceeds and the artist’s output would go to reimburse the guarantors. In this way the benefactors could own the artist’s work without actually purchasing it and, as a handwritten annotation on Coldstream’s copy of the plan indicates, could request particular types of work: ‘the artists would be very pleased to paint to order houses, landscapes, portraits, conversation pieces or even still lifes’.[18]

When he received the Plan, Clark wrote that he ‘agreed with it all and would be very glad to help you’,[19] and, though they initially proposed that there should be ten guarantors, his offer to take responsibility for half the sum led Coldstream to look for only another two to underwrite a further £100. It is not apparent if similar support came from elsewhere, but in this way he essentially came to be paid a regular stipend by Clark who, presumably, could then choose from his output. The formulation of a modern system of patronage was an important theme for Clark, who established his private ‘Fund for Needy Artists’ from which several British artists benefited, including Coldstream’s friends Bell and Victor Pasmore.[20] He believed that an artist would benefit from the active involvement of a patron as opposed to the tacit support of the market and so would attempt to steer their production. ‘Ideally’, he wrote, ‘it needs two people to make a picture: one to commission it and the other to carry it out ... The ideal patron doesn’t simply pay an artist for his work. He is a man with enough critical understanding to see the direction in which the artist ought to go’.[21] In particular, Clark encouraged Bell and, during the war, Coldstream to paint landscapes and, as On the Map was made soon after the beginning of his financial arrangement with Coldstream, it may have resulted from a similar intervention. It was also an aspect of Clark’s patronage that he would frequently lend and give away works to promote an artist’s reputation. He told the Tate that during the war he had lent On the Map to Winston Churchill and that the Prime Minister had hung it in his London office.

Chris Stephens
August 1998

[1] Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, London 1984, p.70.

[2] Conversation with Richard Morphet, 24 January 1983, Tate catalogue files.
[3] Coldstream, letter to Tate Gallery, 5 December 1982, Tate catalogue files.

[4] Graham Bell, letter to his family quoted by Mrs Olivier Bell, letter to Tate Gallery, 17 January1983, Tate catalogue files.

[5] Reproduced in Kenneth Clark, Paintings of Graham Bell, London 1947, pl.7.
[6] No reproduction known.
[7] Coldstream, letter to Dr John Rake, undated [August-September 1937], Tate Archive TGA 787.22.
[8] Reproduced in Lawrence Gowing and David Sylvester, The Paintings of William Coldstream 1908-87, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1990, p.79.

[9] William Coldstream, ‘New Pictures at the Tate Gallery’, New Britain, 27 Dec. 1933, p.163.

[10] Letter to Tate, 5 December 1982, Tate catalogue files.
[11] W.H. Auden, Collected Shorter Poems 1927-57, London 1966, p.82.
[12] Ibid., p.58.

[13] W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice, ‘Letter to William Coldstream’, in Letters from Iceland, London 1937, p.227.

[14] John Piper, ‘Prehistory from the Air’, Axis, no.8, pp.4-8.
[15] David Mellor, A Paradise Lost: The Neo-Romantic Imagination in Britain 1935-55, exh. cat., Barbican Art Gallery, London 1987, p.11.

[16] Lawrence Gowing, ‘Remembering Coldstream’, Gowing and Sylvester 1990, p.20.
[17] David Sylvester, ‘Grey Eminence’, New Statesman and Nation, vol.63, no.1624, 27 April 1962, p.609.

[18] Annotation on William Coldstream and Graham Bell, ‘A Plan for Artists’, Tate Archive TGA 8922.9.3.

[19] Sir Kenneth Clark, letter to Coldstream, 4 February 1937, Tate Archive TGA 8922.4.222.
[20] Chris Stephens, ‘The Patronage of Kenneth Clark and Neo-Romanticism’, unpublished MA dissertation, University of Sussex 1992.
[21] ‘The Artist and the Patron’, Listener, vol.23, no.580, 22 February 1940.

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