Edward Wadsworth



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Edward Wadsworth 1889–1949
Tempera and oil paint on canvas on board
Support: 763 × 917 mm
frame: 900 × 1055 × 105 mm
Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982

Display caption

Regalia combines a still life of antiquated and modern marine instruments with a view of the open sea. The sailor’s equipment is given almost royal status as the shapes subtly echo the regalia of sceptre, orb and chain. Wadsworth was fascinated by machinery and collected maritime equipment so that he could paint directly from it.

The stark clarity of his style is comparable to the ‘metaphysicalpaintings of the Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico. It injects a sense of mystery and gives the objects a presence that makes them seem like a monument.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry

T03398 Regalia 1928

Tempera with oil on canvas laid on plywood 30 × 36 1/8 (763 × 917)
Inscribed ‘Edward Wadsworth 1928’ on painting of a label towards b.r.
Purchased from Mrs Barbara von Bethmann-Hollweg through the Mayor Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) with the help of the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982
Prov: The artist; Dudley Tooth after 1929 (?); the artist after 1937; Fanny Wadsworth 1949; Barbara von Bethmann-Hollweg 1949
Exh: An Exhibition of Tempera Paintings by Edward Wadsworth, Arthur Tooth and Sons, May–June 1929 (11); British Contemporary Art, Rosenberg and Helft, January–February 1937 (30); Exhibition of Contemporary British Paintings, Arthur Tooth and Sons, December 1937 (50); Contemporary British Art, Whitechapel Art Gallery, May–July 1938 (76); Edward Wadsworth Memorial Exhibition, Tate Gallery, February–March 1951 (17); Painters of the Sea: an Exhibition of Contemporary Seascape, AC Western Region touring exhibition (venues not known), May–October 1951 (23, repr., without painted border); Edward Wadsworth 1889–1949. Paintings, Drawings and Prints, P & D Colnaghi and Company, July–August 1974 (52, repr. in col.); Tendenzen der Zwanziger Jahre, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, August–October 1977 (4/191, repr. without painted border); Edward Wadsworth 1889–1949. Paintings from the 1920s, Mayor Gallery, April–May 1982 (9, repr. p.19 and in col. on the cover)
Lit: Mark Glazebrook, introduction to Edward Wadsworth 1889–1949. Paintings, Drawings and Prints, exhibition catalogue, P & D Colnaghi and Company, July–August 1974 (n.p., repr. in col. no.52); Christine Boyanoski, ‘The Art of Edward Wadsworth’, unpublished M.Phil. thesis, University of London, Courtauld Institute of Art, 1981, p.65; Mark Glazebrook, introduction to Edward Wadsworth 1889–1949. Paintings from the 1920s, exhibition catalogue, Mayor Gallery, April–May 1982 (n.p., repr. pl.9 and in col. on the cover); The Friends of the Tate Gallery. Annual Report 1st May 1982–30th April 1983, 1983, p.11 (repr. on front cover without painted border); The Tate Gallery 1982–84. Illustrated Biennial Report, 1984, p.45 (repr. in col. without painted border); Also repr: Arts Review, XXVI, 26 July 1974 (in col. on cover); Charles Harrison, English Art and Modernism, London, 1981, no.106 (without painted border)

Among other sources of information the following entry is based on letters from the artist's daughter, Mrs Barbara von Bethmann-Hollweg, dated 20 September and 21 September 1982, and 9 April, 14 May and 4 June 1986.

‘Regalia’ depicts marine instruments, grouped on a table, beyond which is a terrace overlooking the sea. From left to right the instruments may be identified as follows: compass, surveyor's chain, surveyor's rule, harbour signals chart, inclining sundial, fishing float, vertical sundial, glass net float, portable tachometer and auger. With the exception of the two sundials, which probably date from no later than the eighteenth century, the objects would have been in common use in the 1920s (information supplied by the National Maritime Museum in a letter of 26 March 1986). According to Mrs von Bethmann-Hollweg, the large red object, around which is draped a string of cork floats, is a ship's lantern (port) ‘related to the type called Dark Lantern since its light could be shut off by a small door in its side’. She considers that the object identified above as an auger is ‘an instrument for the cleaning of tubes, being a spiral of brass bristles on a metal stem, the tip of which is blunt’. The auger depicted in ‘Shells with Auger’ 1928 (repr. R.H. Wilenski, ‘Modern “Still-Life”. The Paintings of Edward Wadsworth’, Studio, xcvii, June 1929, p.417) has a pointed, spiralled tip. Mrs von Bethmann-Hollweg states that the artist acquired these and similar objects in a number of ways: some were purchased at ships' chandlers, some he found discarded and others were given to him. Mrs von Bethmann-Hollweg no longer possesses any of the instruments depicted.

‘Regalia’ was painted in the artist's studio at Dairy House, Maresfield Park, Sussex in 1928 where he set up the instruments to contrive a still-life composition. Wadsworth was consistent in his practice of painting still-life from the motif but the view of the sea is imaginary. A number of the objects depicted are found in other paintings by Wadsworth of this period but one picture in particular closely resembles ‘Regalia’, namely ‘Parergon’ 1928 (private collection, London). Apart from the fact that ‘Parergon’ is smaller in size than T03398, its composition is similar enough to suggest that the two works were painted successively. The principal differences between the two compositions are as follows: in ‘Parergon’ the chart on the table, one edge of which is curled upwards, is blue and does not depict harbour signals; the inclining sundial appears to be metallic; the surveyor's chain is missing but the composition contains a telescope; to the back of the composition stands a book, possibly a log book, which obscures the background on the left hand side; the table itself is yellow and is situated indoors before a window overlooking the sea (there is no terrace). In all other respects the composition is markedly similar. Other works which are less closely related but of relevance are ‘Song of the Sea’ 1928 (Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, Borough of Thamesdown, repr. R.H. Wilenski, p.413), ‘Floats and Afloat’ 1928 (repr. ibid., p.414), ‘Wings of the Morning’ 1928 (repr. ibid., p.416), ‘Regatta’ 1928, ‘Bright Intervals’ 1928 and ‘Lamentations’ 1928. All these works are still-lifes set before the sea; however, they all contain organic as well as man-made objects. ‘Regalia’, on the other hand, eschews the organic and in this respect is similar to ‘Parergon’, ‘Log and Sextant’ 1928 and ‘Marine’ 1928 (formally called ‘Faithful Servants’, Leeds City Art Galleries).

Wadsworth began to paint marine still-lifes in 1926 after a visit to Marseilles. Although it has sometimes been assumed that Wadsworth painted these first works during this visit, according to Mrs von Bethmann-Hollweg Wadsworth did not actually paint in France ‘after the First World War’, although he stayed ‘in and around Marseilles between the two World Wars’. The subject of the marine still-life was to preoccupy him above all else until 1929 when his work began to move towards biomorphic abstraction. The vocabulary of the marine still-lifes generally includes both the organic and man-made, natural forms, such as shells, and instruments of measurement such as sundials. It was only in 1928 that he abandoned, temporarily, natural forms. The earlier still-lifes were juxtaposed with harbour scenes, thereby forming a link with the paintings of ships in harbour which directly precede these works, but the still-lifes of 1928 are mostly set against an empty or near-empty seascape. In ‘Regalia’ the sea is empty but for a small yacht and a buoy, the only indication of movement in an otherwise motionless scene. In 1926 the notion of setting a still-life before a landscape was becoming popular in England and by 1928 it had become typical of Seven and Five Society painting, notably in the work of David Jones, Ben and Winifred Nicholson and Christopher Wood, as well as in that of Paul Nash who was not a member. It was particularly popular on the Continent where de Chirico, Herbin, Metzinger, Léger, Matisse and Picasso were prominent practitioners, some of whose work Wadsworth knew in reproduction as early as 1921 as a result of his subscription to L'Esprit nouveau, of which he owned six volumes, and to Léonce Rosenberg's Bulletin de L'Effort Moderne, which he subscribed to from January 1924 until December 1927. According to Stephen Hayward, L'Esprit nouveau ‘provided an important visual source for [Wadsworth's] contemporary port scenes and a theoretical justification for the compositional techniques he was to adopt in ... the later still-lifes of the mid-twenties’ (‘Metaphysical Painting in England during the 1920s and Thirties: the Work of Edward Wadsworth, Paul Nash, John Armstrong and Tristram Hillier’, unpublished M.A. report, University of London, Courtauld Institute of Art, 1982, p.3, author untraceable, quoted without his permission). He cites, as an example, that triangular compositions were regularly endorsed in this magazine, a comment relevant to ‘Regalia’. In 1927 Wadsworth spent three months in Paris where he became acquainted with a number of artists whose work was reproduced in these magazines, thereby gaining immediate access to their work.

L'Esprit nouveau and the Bulletin de L'Effort Moderne were both organs of those artists, critics and dealers who were advocating the ‘rappel à l'ordre’ after the First World War, a movement with which Wadsworth, after his Vorticist phase, appears to have had some sympathy. Indeed one of his paintings, ‘Coast Guards’ 1927, was reproduced in the Bulletin in December 1927 (issue 40 as ‘Gardes-Côtes’). The return to the depiction of solid objects in an orderly, precise and clear manner was an important aspect of Wadsworth's work at this time, as indeed it was to his continental colleagues, notably Léger - by whom Wadsworth owned two works of 1928, ‘Les Clefs (Composition)’ (T05990) and ‘Carte et Pipe’ (T05991), the latter having an affinity with Wadsworth's work of the thirties - Metzinger and Pierre Roy whose surrealistic interiors would have been known to Wadsworth by 1928 and possibly as early as 1926, for Wadsworth painted ‘Still-Life’ c.1926 (N05147) in order to demonstrate to Roy the use of tempera (letter from the artist dated 6 September 1942. According to Mrs von Bethmann-Hollweg, ‘Still-Life’ was painted in 1928, although on stylistic grounds alone the compiler considers that date less likely than 1926). The grouping of Wadsworth with Picasso, Roy and de Chirico was made by Wilenski in 1929 (Wilenski, p.414) and Frank Rutter compared Wadsworth with de Chirico and Metzinger in the same year (‘Tempera Paintings Exhibited’, Sunday Times, 26 May 1929). The work of Metzinger appears to be of particular relevance to ‘Regalia’, especially ‘La Roulette’ 1927 (repr. Bulletin de L'Effort Moderne, 31 January 1927) which depicts a still-life on a table top before a window overlooking a landscape. Among other objects the still-life comprises a roulette wheel, in the centre, which is placed on top of a green baize cloth, which protrudes beyond the front edge of the table. These aspects may be directly compared with the inclining sundial and the harbour signals chart in ‘Regalia’. The roulette wheel is also suggestive of the compass in ‘Regalia’. Furthermore, ‘La Roulette’ is painted predominantly in red and yellow, both keynote colours in T03398. While Metzinger's picture may not have been a model for ‘Regalia’, Wadsworth would have known it in reproduction if not in actuality. Other works by Metzinger of some relevance are ‘Astrologie’ 1927 and ‘Allégorie Maritime’ 1927 (both repr. Bulletin de L'Effort Moderne, 36, June 1927). The latter is particularly of interest since it depicts a still-life comprising an instrument of measurement, among other items, set before the sea.

Although neither Rutter nor Wilenski mentioned the name of Jean Lurçat in their articles, his ‘Fruits on a Table’ 1927 (repr. The Paintings of Jean Lurçat, exhibition catalogue, Alex. Reid and Lefevre, May 1930, n.p.) bears a considerable compositional resemblance to ‘Regalia’, with its still-life of fruits set out in a basic pyramidal shape upon a table which stands before the sea, the horizon of which is depicted at approximately the same level as in ‘Regalia’. Lurçat's application of paint, however, is expressive compared to Wadsworth's precise handling. It is possible that Wadsworth met Lurçat in Paris in 1927 and saw this work in the latter's studio. By 1930 Lurçat was painting still-lifes of tools and objects set in the landscape, as though viewed at close range, an idea markedly similar to Wadsworth's works of the late twenties and the late thirties and forties.

The depiction of still-life at close range, as in ‘Regalia’, was also favoured by Metzinger, Roy, Herbin and de Chirico for it endowed the objects with a Surrealistic quality, making them seem larger than they actually were. Although Wadsworth employed this strategy, according to Mrs von Bethmann-Hollweg he was not a Surrealist, ‘although bewildered critics of his day, unable to “place” him, liked to hang this tag on his work’. De Chirico was also obsessed with notions of measurement and depicted instruments of measurement such as maps, rulers, set squares and clock (see, for example, ‘The Melancholy of Departure’ 1916, T02309). In the mid-thirties, when Wadsworth began once again to paint marine still-lifes, he regarded the objects as invested with symbolic qualities, but there is no evidence to suggest that he held the same attitude in the late twenties, although this may well have been the case. Such was the state of artistic debate in England at the time that reviewers insisted on the formal qualities of his paintings and Wadsworth's precision and accuracy in setting up and depicting the motif, rather than on any metaphysical or surrealistic intentions. The choice of the marine still-life was personal to Wadsworth. Ships and ports had always been in his repertoire of subjects even during the Vorticist period and he has always enjoyed visiting ports. Indeed during the First World War he had worked on the camouflaging of ships, an occupation recorded in his painting and prints of ‘Dazzle Ships’. Wadsworth himself stated in 1933:

At no period has the aspect of things been a main consideration in my painting, although admittedly I have from time to time been stimulated by certain landscapes or objects, the realistic appearance of which I have promptly subdued in order to emphasise qualities which I considered more important. (‘The Abstract Painter's Own Explanation’, Studio, cvi, November 1933, p.275)

While this might imply that Wadsworth was interested in the formal and suggestive qualities of the object portrayed, he also implies that he was interested in qualities beyond naturalistic appearance, as would be the case in Metaphysical or Surrealist painting. In 1943, S.D. Cleveland stated that Wadsworth's fascination with nautical objects resulted from ‘their aloof, symbolic and often nostalgic qualities’ (‘Recent Tempera Paintings’, Studio, cxxv, June 1943, p.175). In the passage from ‘The Abstract Painter's Own Explanation’ quoted above, Wadsworth also indicates that he did not hesitate to alter the appearance of things to suit his intentions, a view confirmed by Michael Sévier who wrote, in 1933, in regard to the still-lifes and landscapes of the twenties:

He also realised...that to confer upon a picture an autonomous and independent existence, he had to consider it as a total and coherent entity, governed only by the laws of harmony, detached from normal laws of nature and surpassing them by a long distance. He understood that in its superior manifestations painting is never imitative (even though it may suggest nature), that it resembles the art of pure music where the arrangement of sounds depends upon their own beauty and never on a more or less successful interpretation of sounds that one perceives in the universe such as, for example, the explosion of a shell, the blast of a hooter, the surf of the waves or the cracking of wood (Séléction Chronique de la Vie Artistique, XIII, ‘Edward Wadsworth’, Antwerp, 1933, p.24)

According to Mrs von Bethmann-Hollweg, however, the objects in ‘Regalia’ are faithfully reproduced. In regard to any meaning beyond the actuality of the objects little more may be said with certainty other than that the objects depicted are those connected with measurement, navigation and fishing. In 1929 most critics talked in formal terms about Wadsworth's paintings on view at Tooth's. Léonce Rosenberg, writing in the catalogue to this exhibition, exemplified this viewpoint:

To build a painting, the artist starts by choosing and grouping certain elements of the exterior reality; in other words, by synthesis, he draws out of a motive [sic.], after having analysed it, the elements - colour and forms - necessary to the assemblage of his subject. The passage of the motive to the subject constitutes his aesthetic, the directing principles of which are reason and science. Afterwards, to pass from the subject to the work, he uses an ensemble of means suitable to the expression of his subject.

The composition of ‘Regalia’ is a basic triangle comprising circular, rectangular and triangular objects. It was carefully drawn in advance of applying the paint using compass and probably a ruler to ensure exactness. Pencil lines remain evident in a number of places and holes remain where the point of a compass has been inserted when mapping out the circular shapes. The equation of Wadsworth's paintings with science and mathematics was frequently remarked upon by the critics in 1929. The fact that ‘Regalia’ is painted in tempera, like all Wadsworth's paintings after 1921, necessitated careful preplanning and drawing prior to blocking in the colour, for the medium is fast drying and does not permit the mixing of colours or erasure by superimposition of colours. Wadsworth had been introduced to tempera painting as early as 1913 when, under the direction of Roger Fry, he helped to restore the Man- tegna paintings at Hampton Court. In 1923, two years after he began to use tempera, he visited Italy, travelling through Tuscany among other places where, according to Hayward (op. cit.), he was particularly impressed by the paintings of Piero with their characteristic ultra-marines, emerald greens and reds. Although Wadsworth's paintings prior to 1928 were generally subdued in tone, the paintings of 1928, notably ‘Regalia’ and ‘Parergon’, are more brightly coloured, particularly the former which seems directly to reflect the artist's interest in Piero's use of colour, an interest shared with other British artists in this period, such as Ben Nicholson. According to Boyanoski, de Chirico, who was himself a practitioner of tempera painting and was on friendly terms with Wadsworth by 1928, suggested that Wadsworth adopt a rich egg emulsion. This permitted the latter to use more saturated colour (letter from de Chirico to Wadsworth of 8 June 1928, Boyanoski, p.64 and p.71, note 28). Wadsworth's own latter day explanation for adopting stronger colours ‘was to avoid dullness and a sort of fake mystery ... Also it seems to me that, as we can't compete with Nature's greatest weapon, the magic of light - our only foil is the magic of colour’ (letter to Maxwell Armfield, 5 August 1942, Tate Gallery Archive). According to Mrs von Bethmann-Hollweg, ‘Regalia’ was considered unsaleable in 1929 because it was ‘too loud in colour, therefore offensive ... That E.W. had faith in it is obvious by the fact that it still exists since ... he destroyed whenever he could all the work which he considered for one reason or another unsatisfactory.’ Wadsworth's change in palette, as exemplified in ‘Regalia’, was remarked upon by Wilenski when he wrote in 1929: ‘And now we have a further stage (due to a year's residence in Paris) [sic.] in which with an Italian palette enriched by strong scarlet he has rung the changes on a form of architectural still-life based on the experiments of Picasso, Chirico and Roy’ (Wilenski, p.414).

Although T03398 is executed predominantly in tempera, oil paint was also employed for the yellow border which surrounds it. It is not entirely clear whether the artist considered this to be a part of the work. According to Mrs von Bethmann-Hollweg he did regard it as part of the work but she also states that he may have painted it in lieu of a slip, because it was his practice, at this time, to frame all his works with a slip. The oil paint, she suggests, may have been a last minute expedient. However, Wadsworth was careful to ensure that this border reproduced the colour of the parapet of the terrace, perhaps indicating that the border was more significant than simply a framing prop. Indeed, it may describe the edge of a window frame such as that depicted in ‘Parergon’, the painting which most closely resembles ‘Regalia’, where the window frame is painted in two parallel, vertical stripes of green and yellow, the yellow being adjacent to the window opening. Nevertheless the fact that it is painted in oil, not tempera, is a curious anomaly although oil being more durable than tempera, and the area in question surrounding the edge of the painting, Wadsworth may have decided to paint the edge in oil paint where it was vulnerable to damage from the frame itself. Since ‘Regalia’ was not illustrated in any publications during the artist's lifetime it is impossible to establish whether the border was an integral part of the work, although ‘Wings of the Morning’ appears to have a border, since it is reproduced in the Colnaghi exhibition catalogue with a substantial border, and is reproduced in Wilenski's article cited above with only a slight border. (Mrs von Bethmann-Hollweg doubts that it has a border but, since any possible border is covered by a fillet, it is not possible to tell without unframing the work.) It is not known, however, whether Wadsworth supervised the reproduction of his work in this article. Therefore, although it is impossible to be certain of Wadsworth's attitude towards the question of the border, on balance the compiler considers it likely that the border has both descriptive and practical functions.

Tempera was not widely used in England when Wadsworth began to employ it but during the course of the twenties The Society of Mural Decorators and Painters in Tempera, of which Wadsworth was a member, expanded. In 1930 Maxwell Armfield published a Manual of Tempera Painting summarising the techniques of Cennini's Il Libro dell'Arte. In the foreward to the Manual, Sir Charles Holmes equates the tempera revival with anti-Modernism but Wadsworth did not regard himself in this light. It is more likely that his choice of medium resulted from a desire to produce precisely painted images, for in his book of press cuttings (Tate Gallery Archive) he marked a number of passages which describe the possibilities of hard graver-like precision offered by tempera. On 1 November 1945 he wrote to Maxwell Armfield stating that the revival of tempera painting was the result of ‘a nostalgia on the part of certain temperaments for some kind of basis of painting, a physical and esoteric aim of producing well-made pictures’ (Tate Gallery Archive), thereby indicating that a further reason had to do with the actual craft of painting, a view with which de Chirico would have sympathised.

Wadsworth was aware of the fragility of tempera and the need to protect it and to this end he frequently applied a layer of wax to the surface. ‘Regalia’ is no exception but most of the wax has been removed since acquisition. In 1935 he wrote to Maxwell Armfield for advice on the protection of the paintings he was executing for the Queen Mary and stated that ‘Wax is unsuitable as it collects dust and varnish is unsuitable as it cannot be applied until a year or so after and the protective covering - whatever it is - has to be applied within a week of the picture being finished’ (letter of 20 November 1935, Tate Gallery Archive). Clearly Wadsworth did not regard the wax surface as important to the luminosity of the work but simply as an (inadequate) means of protection.

The question of the provenance of T03398 is problematic. In his photographic record (Tate Gallery Archive) the artist wrote that the painting was ‘in possession of Dudley Tooth Esq’ but it is unclear from this inscription whether Tooth owned the work or had it on consignment. The photographic record of Arthur Tooth and Sons does not include a photograph of ‘Regalia’, which it would have done had the gallery sold the work. Nor does the gallery have any record of consignment in 1937 when it was re-exhibited. It is possible, therefore, that Dudley Tooth himself owned the painting since, in that case, it would not have appeared in the gallery's records. Mrs von Bethmann-Hollweg writes that E.W. stated that it was in the possession of Dudley Tooth but he gave no date to this note. The work was certainly at some time during its earlier days with Tooth's and it is likely that the note was meant to mean the Tooth Gallery, which housed it when it was not on show elsewhere. I owned it for roughly 34 years, though I cannot be absolutely accurate about the date when I took it over from my mother, who had the care of all E.W.'s pictures after his death.

She also asserts that Boyanoski is wrong in stating that in c. 1933 the painting belonged to Mrs F.C. van Duzer, a notable collector of Wadsworth's paintings in this period.

The title of T03398 is a word normally used to describe the emblems and insignia of a king or queen which are used at coronations, such as crown, orb, sceptre, spurs, bracelet and chain. In Britain and elsewhere such royal ornaments are often displayed in a pyramidal arrangement, as they are in ‘Regalia’, and a number of items depicted in T03398 seem broadly to correspond to the forms of the British regalia. For example, the glass fishing float relates to the orb, the auger to the sceptre, the surveyor's chain to the royal chain, the inclining sundial to the spurs. However Mrs von Bethmann-Hollweg denies that the artist had such associations in mind. In commenting on the significance of the title, she writes:

Wadsworth was a very international person and the regalia herein depicted is one belonging to the life of men upon or by the sea no matter where they happen to live. The regalia belongs to them and has nothing to do with the British Crown. Each of these objects has its practical value to those who have to do with the great waters of the world.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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