Paule Vézelay

Forms on Grey


Not on display

Paule Vézelay 1892–1984
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1299 × 971 mm
frame: 1363 × 1030 × 63 mm
Bequeathed by the artist 1985

Display caption

Paule Vézelay lived in Paris between 1926 and 1939, changing her name from Marjorie Watson-Williams to obscure her gender and nationality. In 1934 she joined and exhibited with Abstraction-Création, a loosely knit organisation of artists in Paris dedicated to the defence of non-figurative art. Although the objects depicted in this painting suggest abstracted objects from a still-life setting, such as vases or bowls, Vézelay consistently denied that the forms in her paintings were derived from nature but were instead wholly invented.

Gallery label, April 2012

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Catalogue entry

Paule Vézelay 1893-1984

T03955 Forms on Grey 1935

Oil on canvas 1299 x 971 (51 1/8 x 38 1/4)
Inscribed ‘P. Vézelay 1935' b.l. and ‘P. Vézelay 1935. | 1935' on back of canvas t.l. Inscribed on labels removed from the stretcher and now separately preserved ‘"FORMS ON GREY" | Paule Vézelay | 1935 | 60F' and ‘OIL. Paule Vézelay. | 1935. | "Forms on Grey." | 60F'
Presented by the artist's executors in accordance with her wishes 1985
Exh: Paule Vézelay Retrospective: Drawings, Collages, Paintings, Sculptures and Constructions 1916-1968, Grosvenor Gallery, Oct.-Nov. 1968 (20); Abstraction Création, Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Münster, April-June 1978, Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris, June-Sept. 1978, (no number, repr. p.282); Paule Vézelay: Paintings, Drawings and Constructions 1933-1980, Zabriskie Gallery, New York, Oct.-Nov. 1980, (8, repr. p.3); Paule Vézelay, Tate Gallery, Feb.-May 1983 (21, repr. p.35)
Repr: Arts Magazine, vol.55, Nov. 1980, p.100

In 1934 Vézelay joined and exhibited with Abstraction Création, a loosely knit organisation of artists which was dedicated to the defence of non-figurative art. This step coincided with a move in her work towards a more geometrical type of imagery from which references to recognisable objects or a naturalistic atmosphere were excluded. Ronald Alley has written that many of the shapes in Vézelay's works in the mid 1930s

suggest objects such as vases, horn-like trumpets, tubes and the like, whose outlines are composed of a variety of curves and straight lines. The paintings therefore became studies of harmony, balance, spacing and rhythmical contrast, executed in clear contrasting colours or black and white. There is usually only a limited suggestion of space and many of the forms are divided down the centre into light and dark zones (‘Introduction', in Paule Vézelay, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, 1983, p.11).

Vézelay consistently denied that the forms in her paintings were derived from nature. In a letter to the Tate Gallery dated 17 May 1975 she corrected a misapprehension of a curator, insisting, ‘I am sure the forms in my non-figurative works are invented forms & do not have their "genesis in natural forms"'. However, although invented according to the artist's compositional concerns with the balance of line, shape and colour, the shapes in T03955 can be seen as echoing forms found in the objects of daily life. ‘Collection of Objects on a Blue Table', 1934 (private collection), for example, shows a medley of shapes based upon a table-top scene of fruit, thin-necked vases and bowls, some divided centrally into different colour areas. The imagery of this painting is clearly related to that of T03955 as is that of one of Vézelay's rare later figurative paintings ‘Fruit and Vases', 1945 (private collection). In this context it should be noted that the fact that even her most abstract-looking paintings suggest familiar forms has been a longstanding theme in reviews of her work. In 1934, for example, a French critic wrote that Vézelay's long experience as a figurative painter had allowed her to retain in her abstract paintings the idea of the object, its charm and its hold on the imagination, saving her work from the aridity of that of other members of Abstraction Création (‘Les Expositions à Paris et ailleurs', Cahiers d'Art, vol.9, 1934, p.124). In 1949 Humphrey Jennings also related her abstract works to the things of the material world, writing:

she chooses & arranges shapes & harmonies as she lays a table or arranges the mantelpiece: with care and affection. That is why her pictures aren't really abstract - the affection is for real objects. You can't see the objects ‘in the picture itself'? No. She learnt in Paris not to make the old mistake of confusing the origin of her feelings with the final expression of it (Paule Vézelay: Moving and Static Forms, exh. cat., St. George's Gallery, 1949, [p.2]).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.287-8

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