Nigel Henderson

Head of a Man


Not on display

Nigel Henderson 1917–1985
Photographs on paper on harcboard
Support: 1597 × 1216 mm
Presented by Colin St John Wilson 1975

Display caption

Head of a Man is made from roughly layered photographs of vegetables, charred logs, stones, leaves, a shoe and a scratched wall. Henderson described the work as ‘Out of Nature and into Industry’. He began by making a smaller collage, which he photographed and enlarged. He then added more photographic cuttings and paint. Finally, he re-photographed and further enlarged the work to create this densely layered image. It was originally exhibited as part of the collaborative installation, Patio and Pavilion, in 1956.

Gallery label, December 2019

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Catalogue entry

T01939 HEAD OF A MAN 1956

Photographic collage on paper mounted on board, 62 1/4×47 5/8 (159.8×121.5)
Presented by Colin St. John Wilson 1974
Exh: This is Tomorrow, Whitechapel Art Gallery, August–September 1956 (part of exhibit No.6)
Repr: Terry Measham, The Moderns, Oxford 1976, No.47

The exhibition This is Tomorrow held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in August and September 1956 was intended to demonstrate the possibilities of integrating art and architecture. Twelve groups of people, notionally consisting of an architect, a painter and a sculptor each produced an environment. One group consisted of Nigel Henderson, Eduardo Paolozzi, and Peter and Alison Smithson. The theme of their exhibit, says Henderson, was that of ‘a man with a patch of land, a little garden, where reflective man may live with his artifacts in a context of nature’.

Henderson contributed three items to the exhibition. One was a sheet of hardboard, 8×4 ft. in size, covered with collaged photographs, laid on the floor and partially covered with sand; this represented a pond. Images including human skeletons and frogs were intended to suggest the cycle of nature and life and death in the pond. The second exhibit was another 8×4 sheet of hardboard which was covered with collaged photographs of cross sections of plants and of a tick parasite on bees. This work was to symbolize the growth of plant forms. Henderson has always been interested in biology, and after leaving school studied botany and zoology for a year.

The third exhibit was T01939 ‘Head of a Man’, which ‘largely filled one wall of a rather “diagrammatic” hut or shed or even a “summerhouse” where a Head worker might cultivate his intelligence and imagination or a Hand worker his “garden”. Each would impose his presence. The visor-like element was to symbolize this Head projection of Head protection role. The face was heavily textured to underline the association with hide or bark and the bust/shoulders were adumbrated with bits of photo-material like stone or leaf to further his association with nature. That's about it! I remember Pathe News got hold of it and held it up as yet another pretentious piece of modernistic balderdash in that plummy smooth sub-Stewart-Hibberdish voice that covered the disasters of the Globe from Munich to mouse traps throughout the Wonder-Book-of-This-or-That-Age!’. (Quotation from a letter from Nigel Henderson to Colin St. John Wilson 7 February 1975).

T01939 was based on a small collage head (Coll. the artist) which was photographed and an enlargement made from the negative with also another of a photograph of a bronze shoe superimposed upon it to produce a visor effect in the resulting image. Some areas of this photograph were painted and another photograph taken which was enlarged and finally more photographic collage elements added.

At the time that Henderson executed T01939 he was photographing vegetables, including those of the turnip family. Images of vegetables as well as those of charred logs occur in the work.

At this time Henderson had flown to Paris with Paolozzi to see an exhibition of work by Dubuffet which had impressed him. Henderson knew of Arcimboldo's paintings of heads composed of vegetables and was interested in the idea of metamorphosis. There were no conscious science fiction allusions in T01939.

T01939 was executed in the artist's house in Bethnal Green, though at this time he was living at Thorpe-le-Soken. After the end of the This is Tomorrow exhibition, Colin St. John Wilson attempted unsuccessfully to persuade the artist to sell it to him. He bought it finally c.1967.

Henderson gave the title ‘Head of a Man’ to the work in March 1973.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978

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