Patrick Heron

Vertical : January 1956


Not on display

Patrick Heron 1920–1999
Oil paint on hardboard
Painting: 2438 × 1219 mm
frame: 2470 × 1252 × 51 mm
Purchased 1993

Display caption

One of Heron's early non-figurative 'tachiste' (the French word for blot or mark) paintings in which the partial influence of contemporary American and French abstract styles is evident. For Heron dispensing with figurative imagery was a liberating experience, allowing him to 'deal more directly and inventively... with every single aspect of the painting that is purely pictorial, i.e. the architecture of the canvas, the spatial interrelation of each and every touch (and stroke, or bar) of colour... with a sense of freedom quite denied to me when I still had to keep half an eye on a 'subject' The painting covers an earlier, figurative work, traces of which can be discerned.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Technique and condition

Painted in Roberson's artist's oil colour and Ripolin decorator's paints over an abandoned painting on the smooth face of a hardboard panel. The panel had originally been prepared with a thin coat of lean, watersoluble white primer. The board is supported by a narrow timber framework pinned to the back after painting. The earlier painting was not removed before reversing the board and some of its bold brushwork remains visible in the surface conformation of the present painting.

Painted in slabs of colour often applied in broad brush strokes, the colours are mainly whites, greys, mars black unmixed zinc and cadmium yellows, cadmium red and synthetic ultramarine blue. The variations in the underlying painting and superimposition of new colour has left a surface of variable saturation which is not varnished. Some areas of white primer and earlier thinly scumbled colour remain visible.

The condition of the painting on acquisition reflected its complex structure and history. The back of the degraded hardboard had been stained by water, the timber framework was detaching despite having been repinned and all the edges eroded. The front was covered with dirt and mould spots and scarred by scuffs and gouges. Most seriously, many areas of paint had cracked, begun to detach themselves from the board and in a few areas flaked off in large scales of paint. This had occurred predominantly in the thicker slabs and runs of brittle, black paint. The force of their contraction was sufficient to break the bond between the underlying white primer and the board. In other areas the top paint layer had developed open cracks revealing the colour below as it contracted without detaching from the board.

On acquisition the painting received four main types of treatment. The detaching paint was consolidated, the dirt removed, the board repaired and supported with a new secondary support panel and the majority of losses of paint restored. The general wear to the surface was retained. To provide protection to the friable edges a simple narrow wood frame was fitted.

Roy Perry

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