Edward Wadsworth, Bronze Ballet 1940 . Tate

Room 12 in Walk Through British Art


Paule Vézelay, Barrage Balloon at a Balloon Centre  1942

Barrage Balloon at a Balloon Centre 1942 is a large-scale charcoal drawing on grey paper that depicts two barrage balloons tethered in a warehouse, their enormous size dwarfing the figures of two workers in the distance. The ovoid forms of the barrage balloons resemble those used in Vézelay’s earlier abstract works such as Forms 1936 (Tate T01911). A slightly earlier wartime drawing also in charcoal, War Damage in Bristol 1941 (Tate L03892), depicts a bombed building in Bristol, its twisted metal girders suspended in space much like the calligraphic lines floating in space that Vézelay had used in earlier abstract works such as Curves and Circles 1930 (Tate T03954). Vézelay had previously used charcoal to draw directly on canvas in works such as Forms 1936.

artworks in 1940

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

artworks in 1940

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

artworks in 1940

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

artworks in 1940

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

artworks in 1940

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

artworks in 1940

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

artworks in 1940

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

artworks in 1940

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

artworks in 1940

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

artworks in 1940

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

artworks in 1940

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

artworks in 1940

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

artworks in 1940

Graham Sutherland OM, Black Landscape  1939–40

This Welsh scene reflects the artist's anxiety at the threat of war; it was painted during the ‘phoney war’ between 1939 and 1940. Both the title and the ominous twilight effect suggest imminent violence. Later the artist would transform objects found in nature, such as tree roots and branches, into human-like presences. Here it is the stark rocky landscape that rises up as a dark, threatening presence.

Sutherland was influenced by the pastoral vision of William Blake and Samuel Palmer (shown in room 8). This painting echoes the breadth of vision Blake showed in times of war, transcending narrowly nationalistic concerns.

Gallery label, September 2004

artworks in 1940

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

artworks in 1940

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

artworks in 1940

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Kurt Schwitters, Chicken and Egg  1946

artworks in 1940

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

artworks in 1940

Art in this room

L03893: Barrage Balloon at a Balloon Centre
Paule Vézelay Barrage Balloon at a Balloon Centre 1942
N05974: Square Motif, Blue and Gold: The Eclipse
Victor Pasmore Square Motif, Blue and Gold: The Eclipse 1950
N06171: Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion
Francis Bacon Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion 1944
T01113: Composition in Yellow, Black and White
Marlow Moss Composition in Yellow, Black and White 1949
T03810: The White Root
Prunella Clough The White Root 1946
T03834: The Crab
Oskar Kokoschka The Crab 1939–40

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