Helen Saunders

Monochrome Abstract Composition


In Tate Britain

Helen Saunders 1885–1963
Ink, watercolour and graphite on paper
Support: 289 × 184 mm
frame: 437 × 311 × 27 mm
Presented by Miss Ethel M. Saunders in memory of her sister 1963

Display caption

Saunders’s abstract works often have figurative references. Here a column is composed of identical, interlocking figures. These figures resemble the replaceable parts of a machine. The column contrasts with a curved background that seems to be supported by other figures. We see flat jagged shapes that resemble arms and legs. This figurative basis is typical of vorticism, whose abstract forms are often rooted in imagery of machines and the city. In 1914 Wyndham Lewis had suggested that the human figure could be abstracted down to ‘a simple black bullet’.

Gallery label, October 2020

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Catalogue entry


Not inscribed.
Indian ink and grey wash over pencil on paper (with a pentimento consisting of a patch of paper covering the continuation of the upper circle about a third of the way down from the upper edge of the composition), irregularly shaped, approx. 11 3/8×7 1/4 (29×18·5).
Presented by Ethel M. Saunders in memory of her sister 1963.
Coll: Helen Saunders, d. 1963; presented by her sister.

The artist's sister considered that this and the two following watercolours probably date from 1915 when Helen Saunders was helping Wyndham Lewis do decorations for the Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel (letter to the compiler, 12 December 1963). Stylistically these works bear a close relationship to designs by Wyndham Lewis published in Blast, No.1, 1914, and to the black-and-white illustration, ‘Island of Laputa’, by Helen Saunders (spelt ‘Sanders’) which appears in Blast, No.2, 1915, p.8.

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

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