Nan Youngman

Départ

1948

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Not on display

Artist
Nan Youngman 1906–1995
Medium
Oil paint on millboard
Dimensions
Support: 508 × 611 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Rea Family 2019
Reference
T15344

Summary

Départ 1948 is an oil painting on canvas by the British artist Nan Youngman that depicts an almost deserted station, with a train stationary at the platform and a tiny figure just visible at the far end of the platform. The iron railings blocking access to the platform and the empty departures board seem to contradict the large sign stating ‘DÉPART’ in red letters in the foreground, contributing to a sense of stasis where departure is endlessly deferred and the station clock remains forever at 2pm. Youngman’s choice to title her painting with the French word ‘Départ’ situates the scene in France, like the contemporaneous Dieppe Wall 1948, also in Tate’s collection (Tate T15343).

Both paintings were inspired by a trip that Youngman, her partner the sculptor Betty Rea (1904–1965) and Rea’s son Julian made to Dieppe on the northern coast of France in 1947. It was the first time they had been abroad since the end of the second world war and their first direct encounter with the effects of the war on buildings and landscapes. In her pictures Youngman was responding to the post-war landscape of Dieppe through the representation of an observed scene, but also creating a sense of mystery and melancholy through largely unpeopled compositions and isolated buildings. She was working in the tradition of English surrealists such as Paul Nash (1889–1946) who, in the interwar period, created a sense of the uncanny through unexpected juxtapositions of objects, or by buildings and objects situated out of place in the landscape. This gave the found object or building a life and meaning of its own beyond its everyday existence; this particular strand of English surrealism was strongly influenced by the work of the Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978). Youngman would have seen work by both De Chirico and Nash at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936, which had a strong influence on her aesthetic development. From 1938 she began to paint empty streetscapes with a melancholy or dramatically charged atmosphere, as exemplified by the scene depicted in Départ.

The picture was acquired directly from the artist by Betty Rea and remained in her family until it entered Tate’s collection.

Further reading
Lynda Morris and Robert Radford, The Story of the Artists International Association, Oxford 1983, pp.31, 34–7, 54–5.
Nan Youngman, exhibition catalogue, Morley Gallery, London 1997, pp.12, 14, 19.

Emma Chambers
March 2019

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