Gordon Onslow-Ford

Determination of Gender


Not on display

Gordon Onslow-Ford 1912–2003
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 921 × 727 mm
Purchased 1972

Display caption

Onslow-Ford was born in Wendover. He served as a naval officer for several years before moving to Paris, where he was taught by the Modernist painter, Fernard Léger.

While in Paris he came under the influence of the Surrealist artists, and the ideas of the French writer, André Breton. Breton's philosophy of automatism can be seen in this painting, which investigates the relationship between the conscious state and dreams. Onslow-Ford described Determination of Gender  as ‘bringing the dream world and the waking state closer together'.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Gordon Onslow-Ford born 1912

T01539 Determination of Gender 1939

Inscribed 'G. Onslow-Ford | Chemillieu | 6 39' t.r.
Oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 28 5/8 (92 x 72.6)
Purchased at Sotheby's (Grant-in-Aid) 1972
Prov: E.L.T. Mesens, London (purchased from the artist 1940); Mesens sale, Sotheby's, London, 26 April 1972, lot 224 repr.
Lit: Gordon Onslow-Ford, Towards a New Subject in Painting (San Francisco 1948), pp.11-15
Repr: London Bulletin, Nos.18-20, June 1940, p.22 in colour

Gordon Onslow-Ford wrote of this work (17 June 1972): '"Determination of Gender" 1939 was painted at Chemillieu, a chateau overlooking the Rhône where I was staying with André Breton, Yves Tanguy, Matta, Estéban Francés and others for the summer. A new direction in Surrealism was being prepared, and we all made numerous works'.

Later he added (letter of 24 August 1973): 'For the moment I would prefer to let the paintings [of that period] talk for themselves, but I could venture this observation: Surréalisme up to 1938-39 had been interested mainly in dreams, in bringing the dream world and the waking state closer together. Matta, Estéban Francés and I and later Paalen were, as I now see it, interested in the worlds that underlie dreams. Matta and I were the first painters to appreciate the importance of the paintings of Yves Tanguy in this respect, to situate his painting in the evolution of Modern Art. Our paintings of this time opened the way to an adventure in the vast dimensions of the mind - which is only now at its beginning.'

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.575-6, reproduced p.575


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