Ceri Richards

Trafalgar Square, London


Not on display

Ceri Richards 1903–1971
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1511 × 2438 mm
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1959

Catalogue entry


Inscr. ‘'50 Ceri Richards’ b.r. and ‘Trafalgar Square Richards’ on back of canvas.
Canvas, 59 1/2×96 (151×244).
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1959.
Coll: Purchased by the C.A.S. from the Arts Council exhibition 60 Paintings for '51 1951.
Exh: 60 Paintings for '51, Arts Council, 1951 (43, and repr. pl.46); C.A.S., Recent Acquisitions, Arts Council, February–March 1959 (50); Whitechapel Art Gallery, June–July 1960 (38).
Repr: Exh. cat., Ceri Richards, Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales, 1961, pl.19.

This painting, done specially for the Festival of Britain exhibition, 60 Paintings for '51, presents two characteristic features of Trafalgar Square, the fountains and the pigeons, with a subsidiary motif of the street photographer. In the background can be seen the bronze lions which surround the base of Nelson's Column, and the tower of Big Ben. A second, smaller and more abstracted version of the subject painted in 1951 is the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

In a letter to the compiler (14 July 1959) the artist explained that 'after deciding to paint this subject for '51 Exhibition, I made numerous small notes from and away from motif - in order to discover the inner themes, and also to feel the appearance of some sort of dynamic rhythm in design - to find ideas for shapes and spaces and movement - after involving myself in these ideograms for some time I then painted instinctively straight on to the large canvas - colour was resolved gradually as design created sense of reality.

'Everything changed in many ways, the all over blueness, as well as being used spatially and achieving simplicity in the saturation quality of blue, was finally an expression of the all-over greyness of the Square itself.

‘The included features of fountain, Nelson's Column, pigeons, figures, houses, vista down Whitehall to Big Ben, were not so much selected and isolated features, but effects which formed the essential character of the place, and which I wanted to feel I was expressing as a natural fluent whole - lively, varying, but always the same.’

Six later variations on this theme, all dated 1951 and belonging to the artist or private collectors, were shown at the Whitechapel retrospective exhibition 1960. The dominant colour in some of these was red, yellow or green, instead of blue.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II

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