Sir Norman Reid

Mr Pencil at Annestown


Not on display

Sir Norman Reid 1915–2007
Oil paint on canvas on board
Support: 452 × 518 mm
Presented by Lady d'Avigdor Goldsmid through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982

Display caption

Annestown is a village on the Irish coast. In this painting it is seen from the beach. In the centre, the main street runs uphill between buildings. A striped lighthouse stands out against the coastline beyond. Developed from a gouache made on the spot in 1952, the composition was greatly modified when the artist decided to make it read equally well with either of its two longer edges at the top. Although this aim was realised, the original orientation is the only one he now approves. The first two words of the title refer to a character made fun of in a cartoon of 1830 by Randolphe Toepffer. There 'Monsieur Pencil' is an artist who, after making a drawing from nature, is pleased with it both ways up.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

T03478 Mr Pencil at Annestown 1960–81

Oil on canvas laid on hardboard 17 15/16 × 20 3/8 (452 × 518)
Inscribed ‘Sir Norman Reid [the artist's address]’ and ‘“Mr Pencil at Annestown”’ on the back of the board
Presented by Lady d'Avigdor Goldsmid through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982
Exh: ra 1982 (1501)

Sir Norman Reid joined the staff of the Tate Gallery in 1946, rising to Deputy Director in 1954 and Keeper in 1959, becoming Director from 1964 until 1979. He was trained as a painter at Edinburgh College of Art and won a postgraduate scholarship there, but his duties at the Tate left him little time for painting. A portrait of Sir Norman Reid, painted by Sir Lawrence Gowing in 1980, is in the Tate Gallery's collection (T03208).

Sir Norman spent a summer holiday in Annestown, Eire in 1952 and executed a number of gouaches on that occasion. Annestown is a small village on the coast, about ten miles south-west of Waterford. The artist wrote to the compiler (letter of 15 April 1986) that:

The Tate painting is fairly close to one of these gouaches although the design is much modified. I had always had it in mind to develop some of these sketches and decided to try out this one when I came across it in a portfolio.

The twenty-one year span for the execution of the painting is explained by the artist:

After the painting was begun in 1960 it stood around for a number of years when I was making collages - this being a more convenient medium than oil paint for the short periods of time then available. I had a fresh look at it some few years before it reached its final state and it was during this time that it was modified to read upside down.

The title of the painting includes not only the venue, Annestown, but a reference to ‘Mr Pencil’. Monsieur Pencil is the cartoon strip figure of an artist created by Randolphe Toepffer in 1830 and reproduced in A. Ozenfant's Foundations of Modern Art, 1931, p.74. Monsieur Pencil makes ‘a drawing from nature’ and the caption then reads:

looks at what he has done with pleasure, and remarks he is pleased with it. M. Pencil... remarks that upside down it pleases him too. And even if he looks at it over his shoulder. And having tried to see it from behind, M. Pencil, who is an artist, remarks with pleasure that he is still pleased with it.

T03478 went through various stages including being turned upside down. Its agreed orientation now is the way it originally was painted. The artist recalls:

I think it is more satisfactory as it hangs now although for a long while I was pleased to have it standing the other way up. My wife called this ‘doing a Mr Pencil’ after the sly cartoon by Randolphe Toepffer ... Hence the title ‘Mr Pencil at Annestown’ which was intended as a family joke but has gone by chance into the record.

T03478 depicts the village of Annestown seen from the beach below. The main street in the centre of the picture runs uphill and divides a large manor house with grounds and outbuildings on the left from smaller massed buildings, including a former police station, on the right. A lighthouse painted with stripes stands out against the coastline.

The artist intended the picture to be readable either way up even though only one of the orientations is now the proper way.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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