Adrian Heath

Painting Brown and Black


Not on display

Adrian Heath 1920–1992
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1270 × 1016 mm
frame: 1301 × 1044 × 43 mm
Purchased 1960

Technique and condition

The painting is in oil on commercially primed canvas, and is unvarnished. The image is an abstract one, with almost figurative forms painted using brushy gestural strokes. There is no evidence that the composition was planned or drawn out before painting. Gaps of buff underlying paint have been left visible between adjacent blocks of colour such that these spaces provide delineation and outlines around the abstracted forms. The painting is well-bound and the artist does not appear to have diluted his paints significantly. The paint is fairly smooth and flat with little impasto except for slightly more loaded brush strokes created using a stiff bush and paste-like paint. There is some wet-in-wet work for example in areas where final touches of white paint have been painted over slightly wet brown and black paint, to create a layered partially blended effect. There is also evidence for paint applied over fully dried underlying passages, suggesting the painting was created over a period of time rather than in one sitting.

The palette is dominated by brown (iron oxide) and black (bone black pigment), but streaks of bright red (cadmium red), pink and white provide contrast and interest. Castor wax was found as an additive in the oil paints which is a common tube paint additive used as a rheology modifier (to adjust the flow behaviour of paint, e.g. its viscosity) in modern oil paint formulations. Zinc soaps were found in the brown paint, which may also be present as a paint additive, used to give the paint a buttery consistency. Calcium carbonate (chalk) and barium sulphate have been found in the paints. These are common extender pigments used to bulk out manufactured tube paints.

The painting is in excellent condition. Some small areas of cadmium red paints are water sensitive. Water sensitivity is commonly encountered in unvarnished oil paintings of the twentieth century and is an area of concurrent research (see the Cleaning Modern Oil Paints project). The painting is currently framed and unglazed.

Further reading
Jane Rye, Adrian Heath, Farnham, 2012.
Adrian Heath, Adrian Heath: Five decades, exhibition catalogue, Jonathan Clark Fine Art, London, 2015.
Adrian Heath, Abstract Painting: its origin and its meaning, Alec Tiranti, London. 1953

Judith Lee
February 2017

Research on this work was carried out as part of an AHRC funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at Tate, 2013–2016.

Catalogue entry

Inscr. ‘Heath’ 60' b.r.
Canvas, 50×40 (127×101).
Purchased from the Hanover Gallery (Knapping Fund) 1960.
Exh: Hanover Gallery, December 1960–January 1961 (5).
Repr: John Rothenstein, The Tate Gallery, 1962, p.261.

The artist wrote (14 January 1961) that the picture was painted in London in October 1960, ‘from a series of drawings and water-colours that I made during the summer of the same year at Hillhead in Hampshire’. However, the back of the canvas is inscribed: ‘Adrian Heath Sept. 60’, perhaps the date when the canvas was prepared.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I

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