Edward Wadsworth, ‘Bronze Ballet’ 1940
Edward Wadsworth, Bronze Ballet 1940 . Tate

Room 9 in Walk Through British Art

1940

12 rooms in Walk Through British Art

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion

Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion  1944

The title of this work refers to figures that are often featured in Christian paintings of the death of Jesus. Bacon said the figures in his work represented the Furies, ancient Greek goddesses. They punished human wrongdoing. The work was first shown publicly in April 1945. The Second World War was in its final months, after six years of conflict. The first photographs and film footage of Nazi concentration camps were being released. For some, Bacon’s painting reflected the horror of the Holocaust, in which six million Jewish people were murdered. It was also seen to reflect the fear caused by the development of nuclear weapons.

Gallery label, July 2020

© Estate of Francis Bacon. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020

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artworks in 1940

Jacob and the Angel

Sir Jacob Epstein, Jacob and the Angel  1940–1

Here Epstein depicts a passage from the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Jacob wrestles through the night with an unknown attacker, who eventually overpowers him. In the morning, he realises he has been fighting God and his own conscience. Epstein shows Jacob exhausted, being held up by an angel. The sculpture divided opinion when it was first exhibited. The Daily Mail newspaper asked: ‘Is this a miracle or a monstrosity?’

Gallery label, September 2019

© The estate of Sir Jacob Epstein

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Totes Meer (Dead Sea)

Paul Nash, Totes Meer (Dead Sea)  1940–1

This painting, the title of which is German for ‘dead sea’, was made during the first half of the Second World War. It was inspired by a wrecked aircraft dump at Cowley in Oxfordshire. Nash based the image on photographs he took there. The artist described the sight: ‘The thing looked to me suddenly, like a great inundating sea ... the breakers rearing up and crashing on the plain. … nothing moves, it is not water or even ice, it is something static and dead.’ He created an unsettling atmosphere by setting the scene at night and including a solitary owl in flight.

Gallery label, April 2019

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artworks in 1940

Composition in Yellow, Black and White

Marlow Moss, Composition in Yellow, Black and White  1949

Moss wrote, ‘I am no painter, I don’t see form, I only see space, movement and light’. Moss’s three-dimensional works, which she first made in white, relate to the structural grids popular in the Dutch art movement ‘De Stijl’ and the paintings of abstract artist Piet Mondrian. Here, two small black horizontal planes counterbalance a bright yellow section and a network of white lines that stand out from the canvas. Together these white, yellow and black elements interact to create a sense of movement and light.

Gallery label, April 2019

© reserved

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St Mary le Port, Bristol

John Piper, St Mary le Port, Bristol  1940

Piper was commissioned as a war artist during the Second World War, painting civilian life in the UK during the conflict. He made a series of paintings of bombed buildings, visiting the sites to take photographs and make sketches. These formed the basis for a series of paintings. From 1940, he focused particularly on churches that had been damaged or destroyed. St Mary le Port was hit in the attacks on Bristol Docks in November 1940.

Gallery label, April 2019

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The Crab

Oskar Kokoschka, The Crab  1939–40

The view is from the Kokoschka’s house in Polperro, Cornwall. He lived there between 1939 and 1940, having left Prague, Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia), to escape the Nazis invasion. This work refers to the German occupation. Kokoschka said the swimmer (a self-portrait) represented Czechoslovakia, and the crab Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister at the time. He explained, the crab ‘would only have to put out one claw to save him from drowning, but remains aloof.’ Kokoschka claimed that his landscape paintings often became political metaphors if he brought them to London unfinished, as in this case.

Gallery label, July 2019

© Fondation Oskar Kokoschka

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Bronze Ballet

Edward Wadsworth, Bronze Ballet  1940

This harbour scene is based on Le Havre in northern France. Although this is a peaceful scene, it was painted during the early years of the Second World War, in Maresfield in Sussex. From there, Wadsworth could hear the bombing of French ports by the German forces.
Wadsworth painted many collections of marine objects like this. He was interested in animism – giving life to inanimate objects. Here the forms of the ships’ propellers suggest movement, or a dance, while also hinting at the function they will perform out at sea.

Gallery label, April 2019

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Green Tree Form: Interior of Woods

Graham Sutherland OM, Green Tree Form: Interior of Woods  1940

This composition was based on a fallen tree on a grassy bank, with exposed roots. Sutherland isolated this ‘found object’ and abstracted its form so that it seems to emerge from the murky green surroundings. It resembles a monster, or even a distorted human figure. Critics have suggested that the organic form of the fallen tree is used here as a symbol of human cruelty and violence, reflecting the anxiety and political crisis of the Second World War.

Gallery label, April 2019

© Tate

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The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith, No. 1

Victor Pasmore, The Hanging Gardens of Hammersmith, No. 1  1944–7

This painting captures the view down to the River Thames from the artist’s garden in Hammersmith, West London. Its title also refers to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Although it is now thought the gardens never actually existed. The ruled lines visible in the painting show that the composition is based on geometric principles. These principles also formed the basis for the abstract paintings that Pasmore began to produce the following year.

Gallery label, April 2019

© estate of Victor Pasmore / DACS 2020

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artworks in 1940

Square Motif, Blue and Gold: The Eclipse

Victor Pasmore, Square Motif, Blue and Gold: The Eclipse  1950

Most of Pasmore’s ‘square motif’ works date from 1948–50. They are constructions of shapes such as spirals, rectangles, triangles and circles, which can be found in nature.
The way these elements are combined could be seen to represent Pasmore’s emotions and ideas, rather than just an arrangement of shapes and patterns. Although he sought to create balanced compositions, he stressed that he wished to express human feelings, not abstract ideas.

Gallery label, April 2019

© Tate

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Chisenhale Road

Nigel Henderson, Chisenhale Road  1951

In 1945, Henderson moved to Bethnal Green in east London. Having received no formal training in photography, he took to the streets with a borrowed Leica camera. His images around this area capture the daily lives of local people, and the experience of living in an urban environment. He referred to his technique as a form of ‘reportage’ or documentary photography.

Gallery label, April 2019

© Nigel Henderson Estate

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artworks in 1940

Hotel by the Sea

John Craxton, Hotel by the Sea  1946

Craxton was born in London and studied at the Central School of Art and Goldsmiths’ College. Craxton visited Greece for the first time in the summer of 1946. This is one of his earliest Greek landscapes, painted on the island of Poros. Craxton’s experience of Greece made him realise that his interest in landscape was based on how humans interacted with it. Figures such as shepherds and poets, as well as farms, houses and animals, feature regularly in these paintings.

Gallery label, April 2019

© John Craxton

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artworks in 1940

Leaping Figure

Keith Vaughan, Leaping Figure  1951

During the late 1940s Vaughan moved away from working with water-based paints and began to explore the texture and colour of oil paints. In this work he describes a figure in motion, focusing on the curves of the body as it leaps, instead of on the face or identity of the person. Vaughan explained this work as ‘an attempt to evolve a solid and monumental composition out of the transitory and fluid forms suggested by a figure in movement.’ Vaughan often went to the ballet and much of his work focuses on bodies in motion.

Gallery label, April 2019

© The estate of Keith Vaughan

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Bag-wash

Nigel Henderson, Bag-wash  1949–53

In 1945, Henderson moved to Bethnal Green in east London. Having received no formal training in photography, he took to the streets with a borrowed Leica camera. His images around this area capture the daily lives of local people, and the experience of living in an urban environment. He referred to his technique as a form of ‘reportage’ or documentary photography.

Gallery label, April 2019

© Nigel Henderson Estate

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14/23
artworks in 1940

The Mutilated

Jankel Adler, The Mutilated  1942–3

As a Polish Jew and a socialist Adler was vulnerable to persecution when the Nazi party came to power in 1933 and he left Germany immediately. He worked in Warsaw and Paris before arriving in Britain with the Polish army. His experiences as a refugee and the first news of the concentration camps affected the work he made during the Second World War. The Mutilated was painted in London during heavy bombing. Adler said it reflected his admiration for ‘the behaviour of Londoners under great stress and suffering’. ‘Only then could humanity be seen at its best,’ he added.

Gallery label, April 2019

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artworks in 1940

The White Root

Prunella Clough, The White Root  1946

Clough’s first solo show in 1947 was at the Leger Gallery in London. It included still lifes and landscapes. Throughout the late 1940s, she visited the Suffolk Coast and her paintings from that time often show coastal subjects. The White Root features a bleached root structure, a wooden box or door and other debris. Although Clough painted it from observation, she focused on the abstract qualities of the root’s texture and shape.

Gallery label, April 2019

© The estate of Prunella Clough

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artworks in 1940

Forms on a Bow

Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, Forms on a Bow  1949

Paolozzi lived in Paris between 1947 and 1950. During this time he was influenced by the early surrealist sculptures made by Paris-based Swiss sculptor, Alberto Giacometti.
Here Paolozzi has explored Giacometti’s use of open or transparent structures and forms that relate to machines and animals. These shapes strung between the two ends of the ‘bow’ suggest the coming together of the manmade and organic parts and human and animal instincts to grow, fight and protect.

Gallery label, April 2019

© The Eduardo Paolozzi Foundation

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artworks in 1940

Portuguese Cannon, Mazagan, Morocco

John Minton, Portuguese Cannon, Mazagan, Morocco  1953

Minton went to Morocco with his friend, actor Norman Bowler in 1952. This painting shows a gun at a fortress outside of the town of El Jadida. The fortress was built in 1514 by Portuguese forces who had invaded the city in 1502.
Minton once said ‘I am attracted to places where there is a strong individual flavour of climate and living.’ This painting captures the heat and colours of the place, as well as its character as an area shaped by a long history of colonisation.

Gallery label, April 2019

© The estate of John Minton

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artworks in 1940

Untitled (White Construction)

Kurt Schwitters, Untitled (White Construction)  1942

Schwitters came to Britain in 1940 as a refugee from Germany. He was held in a prison camp on the Isle of Man when he first arrived. This work was made after his release, when he was newly settled in London. The leaf-like shapes reflect the interest in the natural world that dominated Schwitters’s work from the 1930s. Its simple forms, combining flat areas of primary colour with white and black resemble his abstract painted reliefs of the 1920s. In 1942 he exhibited with leading figures in British abstraction and surrealism in the touring exhibition New Movements in Art.

Gallery label, April 2019

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Kurt Schwitters, Chicken and Egg  1946

20/23
artworks in 1940

War Damage in Bristol

Paule Vézelay, War Damage in Bristol  1941

War Damage in Bristol 1941 is a large-scale drawing in charcoal on grey paper that depicts a bombed building in Bristol, in the south-west of England. Twisted metal girders are suspended in space, the bricks that had surrounded them crumbled into rubble below. The broken forms of the girders and relationship to space resemble the calligraphic ‘floating’ lines that Vézelay had used in earlier abstract works such as Curves and Circles 1930 (Tate T03954). Similarly, the slightly later charcoal drawing Barrage Balloon at a Balloon Centre 1942 (Tate L03893) depicts two barrage balloons tethered in a warehouse, their ovoid forms resembling those used in earlier abstract works such as Forms 1936 (Tate T01911). Vézelay had previously used charcoal to draw directly on canvas in works such as Forms.

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Nigel Henderson, Heads Seen through Pub Window, East End  1949–53

In 1945, Henderson moved to Bethnal Green in east London. Having received no formal training in photography, he took to the streets with a borrowed Leica camera. His images around this area capture the daily lives of local people, and the experience of living in an urban environment. He referred to his technique as a form of ‘reportage’ or documentary photography.

Gallery label, April 2019

22/23
artworks in 1940

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Nigel Henderson, Gillian Alexander at play, Chisenhale Road  c.1950

In 1945, Henderson moved to Bethnal Green in east London. Having received no formal training in photography, he took to the streets with a borrowed Leica camera. His images around this area capture the daily lives of local people, and the experience of living in an urban environment. He referred to his technique as a form of ‘reportage’ or documentary photography.

Gallery label, April 2019

23/23
artworks in 1940

Art in this room

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion
Francis Bacon Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion 1944
Jacob and the Angel
Sir Jacob Epstein Jacob and the Angel 1940–1
Totes Meer (Dead Sea)
Paul Nash Totes Meer (Dead Sea) 1940–1
Composition in Yellow, Black and White
Marlow Moss Composition in Yellow, Black and White 1949
St Mary le Port, Bristol
John Piper St Mary le Port, Bristol 1940
The Crab
Oskar Kokoschka The Crab 1939–40

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