Bruce Turner



Not on display

Bruce Turner 1894–1963
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 516 × 619 mm
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Tate 2011


Pavlova is an oil painting by the British painter Bruce Turner, who was associated with the Leeds Art Club. It depicts the noted Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881–1931), who performed three times in Leeds in 1912, which was around the time the painting was made. The canvas consists of small, heavily impastoed dashes of primary colours (blue, yellow and red) which radiate fan-wise from various points in the composition. Across this background moves the figure, broken up and multiplied to give a sense of the dancer’s movement.

A contemporary playbill describes Pavlova’s performance in Leeds as ‘The event of the century’, giving some idea of her status and of the stir it may have caused in the city at this moment. Pavlova’s dancing form is depicted in a manner reminiscent of Italian futurist painting, in an attempt to depict the dynamism and energy of the ballerina’s moving form. The subject of the dancer was a key motif for futurist art and Turner’s picture treats a fundamental futurist concern, tracking the figure in movement and giving a sense of its passage through space. The way the moving dancer is rendered is also reminiscent of the stop-action photographs of Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904), whose sequences of images of, for example, a horse in motion, may have been one source of inspiration for Turner’s work.

It is also possible that Turner saw the Italian Futurist Painters exhibition held at the Sackville Gallery, London, in 1912. Exhibited there were Gino Severini’s paintings, which Pavlova closely resembles both formally and in its handling of paint, suggesting first-hand experience of Severini’s work. There is a close similarity with Severini’s The ‘Pan Pan’ Dance at the Monaco 1909–11 (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) which was included in the Sackville Gallery exhibition. The mosaic-like touches of dry, crusty paint in Pavlova are very like Severini’s handling, suggesting a direct knowledge and close scrutiny of his paintings. There was considerable press attention – and criticism – of the futurist exhibition and many works were illustrated in the press. As a member of the Leeds Art Club, Turner may have been exposed to futurism through curator and critic Frank Rutter, Keeper of Leeds Art Gallery and also a member of the Club, who contentiously exhibited futurist art in his Post-Impressionist and Futurist Exhibition held at the Doré Galleries, London in 1913. It is said that Turner was also familiar with the collection owned by Michael Sadler, which included futurist works.

Pavlova represents the earliest known manifestation of futurism in British painting and is one of the most advanced avant-garde paintings produced in the early 1910s, imitating as it does the Italian futurists in a manner and at a date matched by no other British artist. Although Turner moved in avant-garde circles before the First World War, he subsequently adopted a reclusive lifestyle and did not exhibit his work widely.

Further reading
Exhibition of the Work of B.S. Turner, exhibition catalogue, Leeds City Art Gallery, Leeds 1964, pp.4–5, 7, 9, reproduced pl.4.

Emma Chambers
September 2011

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Display caption

This painting depicts the ballerina Anna Pavlova who performed three times in Leeds, Turner’s home city, in 1912. Pavlova’s performance was described at the time as ‘the event of the century’. Turner painted the work in the same year as an important exhibition in London of Italian futurist art, which received considerable press attention. Here he explores a fundamental futurist concern, the description of a figure in motion. Showing similarities to the work of Italian futurist Gino Severini, the fragmented and multiplied figure of the dancer gives a vivid sense of her passage through space.

Gallery label, September 2016

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