Not on display

Oil paint on canvas
Support: 760 × 560 mm
frame: 930 × 724 × 75 mm
Purchased 1983

Display caption

One of the most apocalyptic of Nevinson's paintings, Bursting Shell uses the strong lines and swirling movement of Futurist and Vorticist compositions to recreate the effect of an explosion. The dark shapes, which could be shards of debris or shadows, fracture what appear to be the bricks and timber of buildings and roads. The strong focal point of the vortex - with its bright light and dizzying spiral - simulates the disorientating sensory experience of an explosion.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

T03676 Bursting Shell 1915

Oil on canvas 30 × 22 (760 × 560)
Inscribed ‘C R W Nevinson’ bottom centre
Purchased from Maclean Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Prov: ...; Mrs Manuel Cansino; her children, from whom purchased by Maclean Gallery
Exh: The London Group, Goupil Gallery, November–December 1915 (66);? C.R.W. Nevinson, Leicester Galleries, September–October 1916 (24); ? C.R.W. Nevinson, City Art Gallery, Manchester, July–August 1920 (14, as ‘Shell Bursting. Lent by the Lady Tredegar’); Artists at War, 1914–1918, Kettle's Yard Gallery, Cambridge, October–November 1974 (47); C.R.W. Nevinson, The Great War and After, Maclean Gallery, February–March 1980 (I); Futurismo e Futurismi, Palazzo Grassi, Venice, April–September 1986 (repr. in col.p.310)
Lit: The Daily Graphic, 26 November 1915, repr.; Richard Cork, Vorticism and Abstract Art in the First Machine Age, 1976, 1, repr. in col. p.296

The reproduction in the Daily Graphic (Tate Gallery Archive) proves that this was the painting exhibited at the Goupil Gallery in November 1915, but there was another painting by Nevinson with the same title (C.R.W. Nevinson, introduction Campbell Dodgson, 1918, repr. 10 in col.; another version sold Sotheby's, 21 May 1986, 114, repr.) so it is not certain that it was again shown at the Leicester Galleries in 1916 and 1918. From the beginning this painting has been seen as a conjunction of Nevinson's futurist style of painting with the demands of a war subject. The reviewer of The Observer, 28 November 1915, commented in this way:

‘Bursting Shells’ is Futurism pure and simple, without a remnant of realistic tendencies. An extraordinary sense of irresistible, destructive force is conveyed by that revolving rainbow-coloured spiral from which radiate black, orange bordered shafts.

It appears from this reproduction that the colour of the radiating black wedges has darkened, and the buildings in the background were originally clearer.

The painting was purchased by Mrs Cansino in the mid 1950s in response to an advertisement in the New Statesman, which offered for sale two paintings by Nevinson.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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