Victor Pasmore



Not on display

Victor Pasmore 1908–1998
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 610 × 508 mm
frame: 790 x 700 x 105 mm
Presented by Sir Kenneth Clark (later Lord Clark of Saltwood) 1957

Display caption

This painting is of Pasmore's pregnant wife Wendy. The just detectable squaring-up marks and the precisely located bodily contours recall the fidelity to observation of the Euston Road School artists of whom Pasmore was a leading member. At the same time the freedom of touch in the bedclothes looks back to Pasmore's sensuous paintings in the mid-1930s. Both the clarity and the amplitude of the figure recall the nineteenth-century French painter Ingres, whose image Pasmore included in a later painting of a nude. Here, he was also painting in reaction to a nude by Renoir - 'I thought I'd do the subject, but without the sloppy sentiment. I thought I'd do someone in the family way, just sitting on a bed'.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Victor Pasmore 1908-1998

Nude 1941


Oil on canvas 610 x 508 (24 x 20)

Inscribed in red oil paint ‘VP.’ b.r.; colourman’s stamp on back of canvas: ‘No.5 | Prepared by | C. Roberson & Co. | PARKWAY | LONDON | NW’

Presented by Sir Kenneth Clark (later Lord Clark of Saltwood) 1957

Purchased from the artist by Sir Kenneth Clark 1941

Seventeen Contemporary British Painters, CEMA circulating exhibition collected by Miller’s, Lewes, 1942 (45)
Victor Pasmore, Picasso, Tchelitchew, Mablord, Redfern Gallery, London, Feb.-March 1943 (13)
British Painters 1939-1945, AC tour, 1946-7 (41)
Engelsk Nutidskonst, British Council tour of Sweden, toured by Riksforbundet for Bildande Konst, Stockholm, Jan.-Feb. 1948, Malmo, Feb.-March, Gothenburg, March, Sundsvall, April. (40)
Eleven British Artists, Eleven British Artists, British Council tour of Australia 1949, Perth. National Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Broken Hill, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourn, Castelmaine, Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong, National Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney National Gallery of Queensland, Brisbane, Hobart, Launceston (30, repr.)
Contemporary British Painting 1925-50, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Dec. 1950-Jan. 1951 (54)
Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh 1952 (276)
Oil Paintings and Watercolour Drawings by Contemporary British Artists: Coronation Exhibition, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, May 1953 (47)
Victor Pasmore: Retrospective Exhibition 1925-65, Tate Gallery, London, May-June 1965 (23)
Henry Moore to Gilbert and George: Modern British Art from the Tate Gallery, Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, Sept.-Nov. 1973, as part of Europalia 73 Great Britain(62)
Human Interest: Fifty Years of British Art About People, Cornerhouse, Manchester, Oct.-Nov. 1985 (no number)

Charles Johnson, ‘The Penguin Modern Painters: Burra and Pasmore’, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, vol.94, no.4711, 15 Feb. 1946, p.202
Tate Gallery Report 1957-8, London 1958, p.21, repr. between pp.18 and 19
John Rothenstein, A Brief History of the Tate Gallery, London 1958, p.12 (repr.)
John Rothenstein, British Art Since 1900, London 1962, p.26
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, II, London 1965, pp.510-11
Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, with a Catalogue Raisonée of the Paintings, Constructions and Graphics 1926-1979, London 1980, p.290, no.49, repr. p.46; Bruce Laughton, The Euston Road School: A Study in Objective Painting, Aldershot 1986, p.224, repr. (as Seated Nude)
Lawrence Gowing, ‘Victor Pasmore’, Victor Pasmore, exh. cat., Yale Center for British Art, 1988, pp.8-10

Also reproduced:
Clive Bell, Victor Pasmore, Harmondsworth 1945, pl.12
Clive Bell, ‘Contemporary Art Criticism in England’, Magazine of Art, vol.44, no.5, May 1951, p.182

This picture of the artist’s wife, Wendy, was painted in the autumn of 1941 while she was pregnant with their first child John (born 9 October 1941). Pasmoresaid that it was painted at 117 Ebury Street.[1] The couple had clearly remained in or returned to the studio after it was damaged by a landmine in March 1941, as Pasmore wrote to Graham Bell from that address on 4 July 1941.[2] Pasmore had finished Nude shortly before he left for the Redford Barracks, Edinburgh in October. He wrote to Claude Rogers shortly after his arrival there: ‘I managed to finish the nude before leaving and Kenneth Clark bought it’.[3] Sir Kenneth Clark confirmed that he had ‘bought it direct from [Pasmore] as soon as it was painted’.[4]

Nude is painted over a moderately thick off-white ground on a commercially primed linen canvas. A pencil grid dividing the canvas into two-inch squares is visible in the lower half of the painting. One can see that along the bottom and left-hand edges the squares have been numbered from one to ten and one to twelve, respectively, beginning in the bottom left hand corner. In an interview with a Tate Gallery conservator the artist stated that Nude and Reclining Nude (Tate Gallery N05975) ‘were not squared up from preliminary studies’ and suggested that the grid might relate to an earlier painting.[5] However, the grid appears to have been used to map out the composition, as the figure’s head is precisely framed within the fifth and sixth squares from the left and the second, third and fourth from the top. Similarly, were it not for the adjustments which have clearly been made to the line of the figure’s lower back, the torso would be exactly centred three squares in from the right and left hand edges. The position of the right thigh appears to be based upon an imaginary line running from the bottom left hand corner to a point on the opposite edge that marks the Golden Section point measured from the top. The line of the upper arm is parallel to a similar line running from the top left hand corner to a golden section point measured along the bottom from the left. The top of the bed sheet on the right hand side approximately coincides with a half-way line, which would pass through the nipple of the figure’s breast. An unpainted strip 1/2 inch wide along the lower edge and 1/4 inch wide along the left and right hand edges suggests that the picture might have been painted in a frame.

While the white and off-white tones of the bed linen and the varied colourings of the flesh were applied with confident fluency, the ochre background has been scraped down, making it less dominant. The resultant visibility of the ground through the paint gives the surface an uneven and chalky texture. Indeed, so heavily has the area been scraped that the edges of the stretcher have left a mark along the three sides and the artist has retouched areas, leaving small areas of higher gloss. This revision and the relatively detailed working of the figure are in marked contrast with the cursory treatment of the linen in the lower areas of the painting. The folds in the sheets to the left of the figure, for instance, are rendered with little more than a few rapid brushstrokes, while the canvas beneath and to the left of them has been left bare. Similarly, the complex working and creamy paint of the figure’s body is very different from the rougher handling of the less defined face; as a result the focus of the painting is placed upon the figure’s pregnant torso. Nevertheless, it is clear from his letter to Rogers that the artist considered the work complete. This apparent lack of finish - a feature of much Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting - is a characteristic seen in a number of Pasmore’s paintings of the 1940s, including Roses in a Jar (Tate Gallery T03120).

Nude is one of numerous paintings of Wendy Pasmore, clothed and nude, which Pasmore executed between 1938 and 1947. Several of these reflect the artist’s exploration of the styles and practices of a variety of earlier painters. For example, Girl With a Curtain, 1943 (National Museum of Wales)[6] is based upon the work of Rembrandt and a wartime reclining nude in the collection of Sir Kenneth Clark so resembled the style of Ingres that, on reworking it, Pasmore added a portrait of the Frenchman and retitled the painting The Studio of Ingres, 1945-7 (private collection).[7] The paraphrasing of earlier paintings was an exercise practised by several of the Euston Road painters, Pasmore himself having made a copy of Vermeer’s The Lace Maker, c.1938 (private collection).[8] There are echoes of Degas’s work in the motif of a naked figure seen from behind and in the lack of finish in Nude. In particular, the blurring of the face is a feature of Princess Pauline de Metternich (National Gallery).[9] It is also characteristic of Sickert’s late work; and Pasmore has recalled that his work of the 1930s was principally influenced by Sickert and Bonnard.[10] However, Nude most recalls Renoir’s many treatments of the subject, especially in the handling of the flesh, in which Pasmore’s creamy pink and white paint is interspersed with touches of strong colour - orange, green and yellow. The artist specifically related it to a Renoir nude in the collection of Sir Kenneth Clark with which he was familliar. ‘You know that nude of K’s by Renoir?’, he is reported to have said to Lawrence Gowing on 25 November 1957, ‘Well, I thought I’d do the subject but without all the sloppy sentiment. I thought I’d do someone in the family way, just sitting up in bed - a smack at Renoir. I can’t bear that Renoir of K’s’.[11] The Renoir in question would seem to be the second version of La Baigneuse Blonde, 1882 (Agnelli Collection, Turin), the first version of which heralded Renoir’s sweeter, more linear style.[12] However, the composition and pose of the figure in Nude is extremely close to that in Renoir’s Seated Nude, 1979 (private collection, Paris).[13] The pose of Pasmore’s Nude is also close to that of Philip Wilson Steer’s Bathsheba (Tate Gallery N04462), which he would presumably have seen at the Tate Gallery.

The Renoiresque quality of Nude is enhanced by its ornate nineteenth-century gilt frame. A fragmentary label on the reverse of the frame is inscribed ‘[ ... ] GIRL | Oil o[ ... ]vas, 2[ ... ] x 1[ ... ] National Gallery, Memorial Exh[ ... ] | No.4; 1943-44, CEMA, No.7 | Lent by Sir [ ... ]enneth Clark, KCB’ and typed, ‘Temple Newsam, Stear Exhibition [?1931 or 1951]’. This relates not to Nude but to Philip Wilson Steer’s Fish Girl, 1892, 24 x 19 inches also from Kenneth Clark’s collection, which was exhibited in the Memorial Exhibition of the Works of Philip Wilson Steer 1860-1942 at the National Gallery, June-Aug. 1943 (no.4) and, apparently, as Coster Girl in the subsequent CEMA tour of the exhibition (no.7). The style of the frame is consistent with this.

Nude was one of a significant number of Pasmore’s major works in the collection of Sir Kenneth Clark, which also included The Red Tablecloth, 1936, The Wave, 1939-44 and The Studio of Ingres, 1945-7.[14] In his autobiography Clark stated: ‘I have owned at least twenty of [Pasmore’s] pictures, but, as I wanted his work to be known, I have given a number to public galleries, where the sight of them gives me a pang’.[15] Indeed, Pasmore was one of the principal beneficiaries of Clark’s wide ranging patronage of contemporary British art. His support enabled Pasmore to cease working for the LCC and to paint full-time, a debt which the artist has acknowledged: ‘Clark’s patronage was fundamental to my development’, he has said, ‘he offered me a kind of contract, rather like a dealer, really. He paid me and I supplied pictures in return. This was crucial to me. It meant I was able to leave the office’.[16] However, Clark also purchased works, of which Nude was one. It was clearly one to which he attached especial importance as he justified a refusal to sell it in 1943 by stating, ‘I think it is one of [Pasmore’s] best works and like to have a few specimens of the best work of my painter friends’.[17]

A selection from Clark’s extensive collection was on long-term loan to the Arts Council, of which he was the chair and which did not, at that time, have a collection of its own. A label on the back of the frame bearing the typescript, ‘Clark Loan Collection No.27’, would appear to refer to this arrangement. However, given the number and diversity of exhibitions in which Nude was shown while in Clark’s possession, it seems likely that the label refers to another work shown in the same frame, most probably Steer’s Fish Girl. If so then Nude’s current frame may not be the original.

Chris Stephens
Feb. 1998

[1] Interview with the author, 27 Feb. 1996
[2] Bruce Laughton, The Euston Road School: A Study in Objective Painting, Aldershot 1986, p.224
[3] Quoted ibid.
[4] Letter to Tate Gallery, 31 Oct. 1957
[5] Interview, 2 March 1994
[6] Repr. Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, with a Catalogue Raisonée of the Paintings, Constructions and Graphics 1926-1979, 1980, p.290, no.59
[7] Repr. ibid., p.48, no.108
[8] Repr. ibid., p.289, no.32
[9] Repr. Ian Dunlop, Degas, 1979, p.68, pl.61
[10] Quoted in Laughton 1986, p.58
[11] Quoted by Lawrence Gowing in Victor Pasmore, exh. cat., Yale Center for British Art, 1988, p.8
[12] Repr. L’opera completa di Renoir 1869-83, 1972, p.112, no.526
[13] Repr. ibid., p.104, no.332
[14] Repr. Bowness and Lambertini 1980, pp.39, no.22 (in col.), 56, no.66, 48, no.108 (in col.) respectively
[15] Kenneth Clark, Another Part of the Wood: A Self-Portrait, 1974, p.251
[16] Quoted, Peter Fuller, ‘Victor Pasmore: The Case for Modern Art’, Modern Painters, vol.1, no.4, winter 1988/9, p.24
[17] Kenneth Clark, letter to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 13 Feb. 1943, Tate Gallery Archive

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