Julian Trevelyan

A Symposium


Not on display

Julian Trevelyan 1910–1988
Oil paint and graphite on board
Object: 660 × 918 mm
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1966

Display caption

Trevelyan became interested in Surrealism while at Cambridge, and came to know many of the movement’s leading artists when he lived in Paris in 1931-4. Influenced by Klee and encouraged by his friendship with Miró and Calder, he gradually developed his own mode of abstract Surrealism. In A Symposium Trevelyan combined painting and carving and attached parts to the wooden panel. He later recalled: ‘I had invented a sort of mythology of cities, of fragile structures carrying here and there a few waif-like inhabitants.’

Gallery label, December 2005

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Catalogue entry

Julian Trevelyan 1910-1988

T00887 A Symposium 1936

Inscr. ‘Trevelyn ‘36’ b.r.
Assemblage of four small compositions (each oil and pencil on plywood) on a larger composition (oil and pencil on plywood), 26 x 36¿ (66 x 91.7), mounted on grey-painted board (extent of visible area 30 x 39½ (76.2 x 100.3)).
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1966.
Coll. Purchased from the artist 1966.
Exh. Young British Painters, Agnew, January 1937 (no catalogue); 1937 Exhibition - Unity of Artists for Peace, Democracy and Cultural Development, 41 Grosvenor Square, April–May 1937 (218); Guggenheim Jeune, 1939 (no month given in catalogue) (1); Ten Decades, a review of British Taste 1851–1951, I.C.A., 1951 (231); Fifty Years of British Art, Bradford City Art Gallery, March–June 1954 (483); A.I.A. 25, R.B.A. Galleries March–April 1958 (25), as ‘Symposium’; British Art and the Modern Movement 1930–40, Welsh Committee of the Arts Council, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, October-November 1962 (107, repr.).
Repr.Myfanwy Evans (Ed.), The Painter’s Object, 1937, p. 58; Cahiers d’Art, 1938, p. 34.

The artist wrote (4 February 1967) that ‘A Symposium’ was painted ‘after the International Surrealist Exhibition, during the last days of 1936... It was a sort of summing up of various ideas I had been having, and I even incorporated little panels I had been painting separately. I seem to remember a sort of analogy with a central nervous system in a man, represented as in a house, a parallel of which I was then fond, by a hole (navel), with coloured tabs around like bells in country houses. I don’t think it owed much consciously to Calder, but something to Ceri Richards, whose reliefs I admired’.

In a statement entitled ‘Mythos’ which accompanied the reproduction in The Painter’s Object, 1937 (pp. 59–60) the artist wrote of a make-believe city which he had been concerned to represent in one way or another over a period of years: ‘mingling in its streets and among its labyrinthine galleries are the mass-desires and individual experiences of its innumerable inhabitants... the houses of every time and place are huddled up higgledy- piggledy against each other without any objective design... Moreover, now and then there is a bit of a city, complete with all its inhabitants, that is so organised, so grouped, that the analogy suggests itself to a single nervous system, to a single human being. The line of demarcation between the city and its inhabitants, between houses and people, sometimes almost vanishes. The “Nerves” and “Arteries” of a great town, the “Cells” and “Canals” of our own body: language seems here to have anticipated the painter.’

The panel furthest to the left of the four small ones screwed to the principal painted area is a replacement for a rather smaller one originally in that position (visible in reproductions cited in The Painter’s Object and Cahiers d’Art). The imagery is remarkably similar in both; but the new panel obscures slightly more of the painting beneath, particularly a vertical tube, formerly exposed, of which only the top can now be seen. The artist wrote (7 February 1967) ‘the original (panel) dropped off during the bombing during the war, and is lost. I substituted a similar panel of two, painted at the same time, that I had. I believe I had to make certain slight alterations in order to make it fit.’ The signature and date were also added later.

A more tentative design on the reverse, using similar imagery, is described by the artist (14 February 1967) as ‘clearly... an earlier attempt at the painting that I abandoned.’

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1966–1967, London 1967.

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