Victor Pasmore

Interior with Reclining Women


Not on display

Victor Pasmore 1908–1998
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1134 × 3002 mm
Presented by the Pasmore Estate 2015


Interior with Reclining Women 1944–6 is a large landscape format painting on canvas. The composition is divided into two parts to the right of centre by a vertical, white painted line. The work has a prominent horizontal development with both parts depicting an interior scene with women and children. They are unified by the dominant amaranth purple-coloured back walls, which parallel the picture plane; a strip of brown-coloured paint that runs along the top of most of the canvas; and the depiction of a footstool in the foreground, which straddles the two parts of the composition, its leftmost corner just appearing in the left-hand part of the painting. Nevertheless, the two areas also present important differences, primarily in relation to the state of development of the painting. While the right section has been developed further, work on the section on the left seems to have stopped at an earlier stage of its development, with a significant portion of the canvas, including the outline of a doorway and the drawing of two seated women and a young child, mostly left unpainted apart from a superficial wash of colour in some areas. As well as the two seated women and infant, the left part of the canvas depicts a woman with bright copper hair in a pink-white dress seated on a chair, bending over towards a young child squatting on the floor. The area of the floor is painted in a thin layer of brown paint applied with large, quick brushstrokes. In the right section, the foreground is dominated by the figures of two women, one sitting on a chair with her feet on a footstool, her arms raised as if in the act of arranging her hair on the top of her head. To her right, another woman rests her elbow languidly on the back of the chair, supporting her tilted head on her hand. A young child is reading a book which lies open on the footstool and, in the centre of this right-hand section, a small round table supports a table lamp, of which only the shade is painted, but not the stand. Four framed pictures or mirrors – three square and one oval in shape – are delineated on the wall behind, but painted in very similar shades of amaranth purple in the background so that they partially blend into it.

Between 1942 and 1947 Victor Pasmore lived at 16 Hammersmith Terrace in London, on the banks of the River Thames, a location that provided subjects for a major series of landscapes, including The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith, No.1 1944–7 (Tate T12615) and The Gardens of Hammersmith No.2 1949 (Tate T07033). It was here that Pasmore painted Interior with Reclining Women, wanting to break with sketching and painting outdoors in favour of an approach that allowed him free rein to use his imagination and memory. The painting, which the artist chose to leave in an incomplete state, provides a key to understanding Pasmore’s transition from figuration to abstraction in the mid to late 1940s. While the reasons why Pasmore left the painting unfinished remain unknown, the exact dates of its execution have been recorded differently in different sources. A reproduction of a detail of the painting, with the alternative title The Abode of Love, appeared in Horizon magazine in 1945 with the caption ‘detail from an unfinished decorative painting 1944’ (Horizon, no.11, March 1945, pp.162–3). The catalogue of Pasmore’s one-man exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London in 1965, in which the work is titled Red Interior, also dates it to 1944 (see Tate Gallery 1965, no.38). However, the image reproduced in Horizon in 1945 is of a detail of the work at an earlier stage of development. Furthermore, the art historian Alistair Grieve, who knew Pasmore and had extensive access to his private archive, has dated it 1944–6 (Grieve 2010, pp.34–5). For those reasons, the date 1944–6 seems to be the most representative and reflects the protracted if ultimately unfinished development of the work.

The painting expresses the warmth of family life by means of colour and form, showing the artist’s wife and his young son John represented in both halves of the painting, while his baby daughter Mary is also depicted in the left part of the work. Around the mid-1940s Pasmore began to experiment with various aspects of post-impressionism, studying the work of European artists such as Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) and Georges Seurat (1859–1891). As well as reading their writings, he drew on a wide variety of visual sources: Edgar Degas’s paintings of people in interiors (for example, Combing the Hair c.1896, which the National Gallery, London, acquired in 1937), J.M.W. Turner’s interiors from Petworth House in West Sussex, and paintings and prints by the nineteenth-century French group of artists known as Les Nabis. Interior with Reclining Women also illustrates Pasmore’s interest in Chinese paintings and Japanese prints, examples of which he was able to study as a young painter in the British Museum in London. The proportions of the canvas, the domestic setting and intimate atmosphere, as well as the break in the picture’s composition, may relate to the work of one of the eighteenth-century Japanese artists from the Edo period whose work Pasmore deeply admired, Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806). Utamaro’s prints depicted women of different ages and types engaged in various often domestic activities, some at home with their children, as in the case of Women Sewing c.1795–6 (British Museum, London), a triptych of colour woodblock prints.

Pasmore’s move into abstraction around 1948 was one of the most discussed – equally condemned and celebrated by his contemporaries – events in post-war British art. Although Pasmore’s transition from figuration to abstraction has often been referred to as a ‘conversion’ (see, for instance, Jasia Reichardt, Victor Pasmore, London 1962, unpaginated), this was a progressive shift marked by experimentation rather than a sudden resolution. After having earned an outstanding reputation as a painter of highly sensitive landscapes and figure studies, around the mid-1940s Pasmore’s interest in various aspects of post-impressionism led him to experiment with the use of multiple perspectives, the adoption of a modified form of pointillism and the compression of the picture space. Interior with Reclining Women is an important picture in relation to this transition, as it demonstrates Pasmore’s working through of a composition in which the picture space is flattened and the formal qualities of the figures and objects depicted, as well as their uniform colour, become the subjects of an increasingly abstracted scene.

Further reading
Victor Pasmore, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1965, no.38.
Alistair Grieve (ed.), Victor Pasmore: Writings and Interviews, London 2010, pp.34–5.

Elena Crippa
January 2015

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