John Latham

Burial of Count Orgaz


Not on display

John Latham 1921–2006
Canvas, plaster, spoon, sponge, books, bottle, gas light fitting, gas pipes and other materials
Object: 1219 × 914 × 216 mm
Purchased 1976

Display caption

This work is based on El Greco's 1586 painting of the same title. Latham was impressed by the way El Greco had depicted two states of being in the same picture. El Greco shows the Count of Orgaz being entombed and, above that scene, being received into Heaven. In paraphrasing El Greco's work, Latham was announcing his own preoccupation with the idea of a unified universe. From 1958 Latham began to incorporate books as sculptural elements in his work. Here, books are used in combination with other objects including a sponge, whisky bottle, fireguard 'and a flintstone for God'. An old bagatelle board suggests the curved shape of the El Greco.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Not inscribed
Miniature ‘bar-billiards’ table with bottom edge missing and with hessian canvas in place of the original green baize. Several objects are attached to the hessian using plaster, and these have been painted black. The spandrels of the table have been painted red and then gilded. The main objects in the assemblage include one spoon, one sponge, 21 books (approx.), one bottle, gas light fitting, angle iron, rags, wire scrim, brackets, gas pipes, keys, circular fire guard. Overall dimensions are 48 × 36 × 8 1/2 (121.9 × 91.4 × 21.6)
Purchased from the artist (Discretionary Fund) 1976
Exh: Galerie Schmela, Düsseldorf, 1960; Galerie Internationale d'Art Moderne, Paris, 1962; John Latham: State of Mind, Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, September–October 1975 (3); Arte inglesi oggi 1960–76, Palazzo Reale, Milan, February–May 1976 (2); John Latham, Tate Gallery, June–July 1976 (3)
Lit: Charles Harrison, ‘Where does the collision happen? John Latham in conversation with Charles Harrison’ Studio International, CLXXIV, 1968, pp.258–61. Rosetta Brooks and John Stezaker, John Latham: State of Mind, Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, 1975, p.26, repr. p.27; catalogue (part one) of Arte inglesi oggi 1960–76, repr. pl.129

In Latham's varied oeuvre, T02069 is a major and seminal work in which the artist adumbrated some of the central themes and preoccupations which are more fully and elaborately developed in later expressions of many different kinds: paintings, sculptures, written treatises and ephemeral events and gestures.

In an interview with Charles Harrison (loc cit.), Latham explained: ‘Visually I felt related to El Greco; I made a paraphrase of The Burial of Count Orgaz on an old bar-billiards table with a heap of odds and ends, a sponge, books, whisky bottle, fire-guard, and a flintstone for God. I was taking very little interest in the current scene; it answered none of my initial questions so far as I could see at this time.’

For Latham, the initial attraction of El Greco was probably and simply that he was outside the main classical tradition of Western European Art which, as Latham sees it, has always been responsible for structuring human experience in terms of extendedness in space. Latham's growing preoccupation with the dimension of time as the basis for a truer perception and understanding of the universe makes it even more comprehensible that he should be drawn to El Greco's famous painting. The latter portrays on the same plane two different states of being: the terrestrial entombment of the Count of Orgaz and, equally clear, his reception into heaven. In translating El Greco's subject into modern media, Latham announced his adoption of the over-riding theme of universal unity. Like William Blake before him, Latham has consistently deplored the splitting of human experience into categories which he believes to be both artificial and false. Significantly, T02069 is one of the earliest works in which Latham incorporated books as sculptural objects. Towards the end of the summer of 1958, the artist began experimenting with the inclusion of three dimensional objects, specifically books, on to surfaces which had been predominantly flat. From being primarily a painter, he moved towards sculptural relief (and eventually sculpture). The significance of books for T02069 is that while it is true that the book is a monument to despised academic categorisation, it is nevertheless a multi-layered battery of information, a reservoir of previous communication; it spans time. Henceforth, Latham was to find the book form his most useful and flexible sculptural object and, over the next eighteen years to date, demonstrated seemingly inexhaustible variations in its expressive power; Film Star 1960 (T00854) acquired in 1966 and T02072, though very different in appearance, are both assemblages made entirely from books. The artist has made towers of books and sometimes ceremonially burned them and has proposed gigantic book monuments on the skyline.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1976-8: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1979

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