Arthur Lett-Haines

Powers in Atrophe


Not on display

Arthur Lett-Haines 1894–1978
Ink, watercolour and chalk on paper
Support: 459 × 436 mm
Presented by Michael Chase 1994


Arthur Lett-Haines was the sole British artist represented at the Société Anonyme's International Exhibition of Modern Art at the Brooklyn Museum, New York in 1926. In the accompanying catalogue Katherine S. Dreier, an important German American collector of modern art, described him as, 'the only Englishman whose work I have seen or come across which shows an understanding of what the Modernists claim as their point of view'(Katherine S. Dreier, International Exhibition of Modern Art, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1926, p.12). The unifying point of view that she ascribed to the various artists represented in the exhibition was an undefined form of 'cosmic expression' (Dreier, 'Foreword', unpaginated).

Discussing his own work, Lett-Haines, who was well known to many members of the European avant-garde during the 1920s, retrospectively listed the movements and artists that had had most impact on him: 'Influences apart from classical were Wyndham Lewis in London 1918, Giorgio de Chirico in Italy 1922, W Kandinsky in Germany 1922 and Pablo Picasso in France always kept me in good heart' (unpublished article, Tate Archive). It is difficult, however, to connect Powers in Atrophe with the work of any of these artists except loosely with the metaphysical landscapes of de Chirico. Another source may have been William Blake's (1757-1827) visionary paintings, which had been exhibited publicly for the first time in 1913 at the Tate Gallery.

The small, black figure in the foreground stands before a relatively massive flight of steps, at the top of which appears to be a door opening onto more stairs. Directly above the door are several odd shapes punctuated by large eyes. Behind these forms is a massive orb, probably the sun or moon. In the upper left are two other spheres which might also be read as planets. Their alignment suggests a lunar or solar eclipse. Faintly outlined in the lower right is a seated male figure with head bowed. The significance of these dream-like images is not clear, but the tiny figure in the foreground and the enfeebled one to the right suggest some lessening of human power in the face of the blazing cosmic forces that dominate the picture.

The picture was probably painted while Lett-Haines was in Italy. In November 1922 he exhibited at the Casa d'Arte Bragaglia, Rome, which was run by Anton Giulio Bragaglia (1890-1960). Although it is not known if Powers in Atrophe was included in the exhibition, it does seem to share Bragaglia's interest in metaphysics.

Toby Treves
November 2000

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

You might like