Mary Potter



Not on display

Mary Potter 1900–1981
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1016 × 1518 mm
Purchased 1974

Catalogue entry

T01898 BONFIRE 1974

Inscribed ‘MP’ b.r., and ‘Mary Potter/1974’ on reverse
Oil on canvas, 40×59 3/4 (101.5×152)
Purchased from the New Art Centre (Knapping Fund) 1974
Exh: Mary Potter, New Art Centre, April–May 1974 (23)

In letters dated 4 and 11 May 1975, the artist explained that, unlike many of her pictures, this one was painted rather quickly. It was based on the view from the window of her studio, on the ground floor of her house at Aldeburgh, Suffolk. This view is of low fruit trees in the foreground, through which a vegetable garden can be glimpsed. Behind these there rises what the artist described as ‘a mass of tall pine trees, growing close together ... they make marvellous shapes against the sky’. (Two other paintings first exhibited at the same time as T01898 are based on the same shapes, ‘Circle of Trees’ 1973, which is reproduced in colour in the catalogue, and ‘Trees’ 1973, of which there is a photograph in the Tate Gallery files).

A photograph of this view, taken in June 1976, is also in the Gallery's files, but the artist stresses that only part of the scene shown in the photograph contributed to the painting and that even this part cannot be correlated with the painting in much detail. T01898 was not meant to be representational, but is not abstract either. Its starting point ‘was that sometimes a gardener will make a bonfire among the trees. As the smoke goes in clouds through the trees, they are crossed with paler, transparent passages, which is very beautiful. I don't think I made this obvious after I got going with the usual business of balancing the colours and shapes. The tiny figure is the gardener’

In this as in almost all Mary Potter's paintings, all the paint was mixed with a turpentine and wax mixture. This medium and the avoidance of shiny varnish at all times are essential to the effect she intended in this work.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978

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