Margaret Mellis

Sobranie Collage


Margaret Mellis 1914–2009
Paper and printed paper on paper on board
Support: 263 × 370 mm
Purchased 1985

Catalogue entry

Margaret Mellis born 1914

T04124 Sobranie Collage 1942

Collage on paper on Essex board 263 x 370 (10 1/4 x 14 1/4)
Inscribed ‘Margaret Mellis | SOBRANIE | COLLAGE | Coloured | CARDBOARD | PAPERS and INK | 1941-2 | 10 1/4 (277 X 387m) | TOP [with an arrow pointing up inside the 'O']' on centre of backboard Verso: inscribed ‘HELP THIS | TOWN | FOR | RUSSIA | X | RAY | UNIT | RUSSIA' and ‘ Help this Town | BUY X-RAY | UNIT | FOR | RUSSIA'
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1985
Exh: Margaret Mellis 1940-80, Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, May-June 1982 (8, as ‘Sobranie, 1942'); Cornwall 1925-1975: ‘a sense of place ... a sense of light,' Michael Parkin Gallery, Feb.-March 1985 (77, as ‘Sobranie, 1942')
Lit: David Brown, St Ives 1939-64, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, 1985, pp.167-8

This collage was made in the artist's house, Little Park Owles, St Ives, Cornwall, where she had moved in 1939 with her husband, the writer and painter Adrian Stokes. She had previously studied in Edinburgh and Paris, and at the Euston Road School (even though she was not sympathetic to that style). At first in Cornwall she had painted ‘large white still lifes.. rather spaced out' (interview of 31 May 1981 with David Lewis and Sarah Fox-Pitt, Tate Gallery Archives). From August 1939 she had Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth and their family to stay, and it was with Nicholson's encouragement that in July 1940 she began to make collages. From the following September these were ‘constructivist'. The conditions in which she worked were then not only awkward because of the number of people in the house, but she was also pregnant, and her first child was born in October. Her account of the origin of these collages was published in the Tate Gallery's ‘St Ives' catalogue:

I was simplifying my painting when B & G [Ben Nicholson and Gabo] came to St Ives [in August and September 1939 respectively]. B was interested and suggested that I should do a collage. At the beginning of 1940 I did one. I got completely hooked. The 11th one was the first constructivist one, it was Construction with a Red Triangle, [Victoria and Albert Museum]. Gabo liked it so much that he asked me to make another, the same. I did and it came out slightly better than the first one. When he left for America he gave it back. He said it would be useful to me.

At first I used all sorts of papers and cardboard and then made one with transparent papers, very much liked by B & G. I thought of using that idea in wood. Although it was the same idea the thickness and opaqueness of the wood made me think of a different way to convey the idea. It came out quite well, that is the Construction in Wood [Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh] (p.167 from autobiographical notes in the Tate Gallery Archive).

The artist has recently confirmed (in a conversation of 3 August 1987) that the collage should be displayed with the Sobranie label at the top, so that most of the writing on the labels is upside down and therefore less easy to read. This was intended to put greater emphasis on the colours of the papers. The labels, which were not supposed to be associated with their use, are the Sobranie cigarette label of the title, a Chilprufe underwear label and the wrapping of sheets of lavatory paper. The parallel lines are drawn in ink. Margaret Mellis also explained that her idea in this collage was to get away from constructivism, and to use colour, so leading to her beginning again to paint in 1944.

The reverse of the paper has two sketches for an abstract poster. This was for a scheme arranged by Barbara Hepworth that she, Ben Nicholson and Adrian Stokes would make original posters to be displayed in shops in St Ives in Easter 1942, to appeal for money for the Russians, who had then entered the war against Germany (Information from the artist, letters of February and 15 August 1988.) Germany invaded Russia in June 1941. Hepworth's enthusiasm for the Russian war campaign is also recorded by Margaret Gardiner (Barbara Hepworth, a Memoir, 1982, p.51). In a note attached to the interview of 31 May 1981, Margaret Mellis wrote:

Once he [Ben Nicholson] found some papers in St Ives painted to look like wood. It was exactly like the paper Braque used in collages, and which Gris painted into his works. Ben was very excited and we all did posters on it, in aid of collecting money to buy an X-ray unit to send to Russia when the Russians came into the war (Gabo wrote the inscription on it) (‘additional notes', Feb. 1984, Tate Gallery Archive).

This poster, however, has nothing to do with the collage on the other side.

The frame of this collage was made in 1977, as before this it had been kept in the bound drawing book as originally made.

A similar, but larger, collage by Mellis ‘Brown Construction, 1941' (425 x 425, 16 3/4 x 16 3/4, artist's collection) was selected by Ben Nicholson to be included in the exhibition ‘New Movements in Art, Contemporary Work in England' held at the London Museum in March 1942.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.210-11

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