Victor Pasmore

Seated Couple


Not on display

Victor Pasmore 1908–1998
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 308 × 358 × 18 mm
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society in memory of Nancy Balfour 1999


Seated Couple is a small oil painting depicting a woman and a man sitting close together on a bench in a beach setting, which is painted in muted tones using loose, sketchy brushstrokes. The figures occupy the left and centre foreground of the composition and are shown slightly from the side. The man has pale pink skin and wears a white hat and brown suit, while the woman has greyish-pink skin and dark hair and wears a grey skirt and a black coat with a grey collar. The bench is wooden, with thin struts, and is mostly obscured by the figures except for one of its arms and part of its back. Behind the bench and figures is a band of yellow that occupies the lower half of the composition, representing the sand, and above this is a larger blue and grey section that forms the sea and sky. A yellow-orange horizon line is indicated towards the top of the painting and in the blue area that represents the sea are occasional strokes of white paint that suggest waves. Patches of a white undercoat can be seen along the bottom and left edges of the work.

Seated Couple was made by the British artist Victor Pasmore in 1933, when he was living and working in London. It is executed on a single piece of linen canvas with a plain, slightly open weave. To make the work, Pasmore coated the canvas in a white primer, after which he painted the scene using thinned oil paint, applying it vigorously in a small number of fine layers. Finally, Pasmore covered the work with a dark varnish. Seated Couple originally comprised the bottom-left section of a much larger canvas and Pasmore cut it away to create this work. Tate conservators have estimated that the larger canvas may have measured approximately 450 mm high and 600 mm wide, although nothing more is known about it (see ‘Tate Gallery Painting Conservation Pre-Acquisition Report’, 6 November 1998, Tate Acquisition file). The inscription ‘Dec 1933’ is written on the back of Seated Couple and the words ‘Claude Rogers and his Wife’ appeared on the work’s original frame, which was replaced by Tate conservators in 1999.

The inscription on the original frame suggests that the work may have initially been titled Claude Rogers and His Wife. In a statement of authenticity accompanying the work that Pasmore wrote in 1975, the artist states that ‘The two figures concerned are the artist Claude Rogers and his wife’ and it is not known whether Pasmore himself ever referred to this work as Seated Couple (Victor Pasmore, untitled note declaring the authenticity of Seated Couple 1933, 11 August 1975, unpaginated, Tate Catalogue file). Claude Rogers was a British painter who first met Pasmore in 1930, after which he and his wife Elsie Few, who was also a painter, established a friendship with the artist (Grieve 2010, p.13). In 1933 both men were members of the London Artists’ Association, which aimed to promote and financially support the work of young modern artists.

Seated Couple is one of several seaside scenes that Pasmore painted in 1932 and 1933, including Sea Front 1932 and Untitled Painting of the Promenade at Dieppe c.1933. As is seen in many of Pasmore’s works from the early 1930s, these scenes are painted using blocks of colour and broad brushstrokes, a style that is reminiscent of the work of post-impressionist painters such as Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard (see, for instance, Still Life 1931–2). However, Seated Couple is unusual among Pasmore’s work from this time for its especially loose application and very thin layers of paint, and the work appears to have been executed much more quickly than his other paintings from the early 1930s. In 1975 Pasmore referred to this work as a ‘sketch’, which suggests that it may have been intended as a study for another painting (Pasmore 1975, unpaginated).

Pasmore has often stated that his use of simplified forms and loose brushwork in the early 1930s was inspired by the work of French artists such as Matisse, as well as Amedeo Modigliani, whose work Pasmore encountered through reproductions after he moved to London in 1926 (see Pasmore and Fuller 1988–9, p.22). In 1980 he wrote that during the 1930s he had been particularly drawn to the ‘freedom and independence’ that was evoked by a loose and partially abstract style (Victor Pasmore, ‘The Transformation of Naturalist Art and the Independence of Painting’, in Bowness and Lambertini 1980, p.34).

Further reading
Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, London 1980.
Victor Pasmore and Peter Fuller, ‘The Case for Modern Art’, Modern Painters, vol.1, no.4, Winter 1988–9, pp.22–31.
Alastair Grieve, Victor Pasmore, London 2010, reproduced p.15.

David Hodge
January 2015

Supported by Christie’s.

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Display caption

This small sketch shows a couple, possibly the artist Claude Rogers and his wife, sitting on a bench with the sea behind them. The free handling of paint and everyday subject matter recalls the work of the French artist, Henri Matisse.  

The year before this was painted Pasmore was elected a member of the London Artists Association where he met Claude Rogers and William Coldstream. In 1937 the three men formed the Euston Road School at 12 Fitzroy Street. Pasmore described this group as 'a call for objectivity overwhelmed by the subjective domination of modern expressionism'.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Technique and condition

The painting has been cut down with the left and bottom edges as originally intended but with paint extending to the cut off edges of the other sides. Commercially primed canvas has been vigorously brushed with thinned oil paint. Several layers are present in places. Along the left and bottom edges bare priming is visible in places. A varnish appears to have been applied to the framed painting, now noticeably discoloured.

Timothy Green
November 2003

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