Gertrude Hermes

Two People


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Gertrude Hermes 1901–1983
Wood engraving on paper
Image: 508 × 305 mm
Purchased 1984

Catalogue entry

Gertrude Hermes 1901-1983

P77069 Two People 1934

Wood engraving 508 x 305 (20 x 12) on wove paper 632 x 432 (24 7/8 x 17) ; watermark ‘BRITISH EMBLEM | MADE IN ENGLAND' plus a rose motif; printed and published by the artist in an edition of 30
Inscribed ‘Two People 19/30' below image b.l. and ‘Gertrude Hermes 1934' below image b.r.
Purchased from the artist's daughter Judy Russell (Grant-in-Aid) 1984

Leon Underwood, whose art school Hermes attended in the 1920s, had begun to purchase examples of African sculpture in London from 1919 and by the 1920s he had amassed a significant collection. It caused him to reassess his formal, emotional and spiritual approach to the human figure, and this naturally affected his teaching. He must have transmitted his enthusiasm for African sculpture to his pupils Hermes and Hughes-Stanton because, when Underwood published a book entitled Figures in Wood of West Africa in 1947, he thanked them both in the preface and illustrated wooden sculptures which separately belonged to them (Hermes and Hughes-Stanton divorced in 1933). Hermes's figure style in the early 1930s owes much to the example of African wooden sculpture, especially in its stocky torsos and limbs. This figure style can be seen in P77069. Underwood carved an alabaster figure group c.1932 entitled ‘Les Amoureux' (repr. Christopher Neve, Leon Underwood, 1974, pl.127) which depicts a naked male and female couple with their cheeks pressed together as well as their torsos. Hughes-Stanton cut two wood engravings in 1935 with the same theme of a naked male and female couple; they are ‘The Shore' (repr. British Prints 1914-1945, exh. cat., Redfern Gallery, 1984, p.12) which depicts a naked male looking at a black naked female reclining in a shell and ‘Composition' (repr. ibid., p.13) which depicts a naked female lying in front of a naked male, both of which are enclosed within a womb-like shape, as are the pair in P77069. Underwood and the students of his art school produced a periodical called The Island which ran for four issues between June and December 1931 and contained texts and woodcut illustrations. Christopher Neve reports (Leon Underwood, 1974, p.135) an unindentified review of an issue of The Island which described the imagery of the publication as ‘in a negroid circle with an embryonic complex', which is an abbreviated way of categorising this shared compositional interest of Hermes and Hughes-Stanton. P77069 is thematically and formally related to ‘More People' cut in 1935 (repr. Gertrude Hermes R.A. , exh. cat. RA 1981, [p.3]) which depicts two naked males and two naked females seated together in pairs, and ‘One Person' of 1937 (see entry for P77070). It also bears a relationship with two sculptures by Hermes, one entitled ‘Three in One' (private collection) carved in elm in 1933 and another entitled ‘Two in One' (private collection) cast in bronze in 1937.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, p.379


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