Sir Terry Frost Green, Black and White Movement 1951 © The estate of Sir Terry Frost photo: © Rikard Österlund

Room 3 in Modern Art and St Ives

War, Austerity and the Modern Spirit 1940–50

1943-45 (St Ives, Cornwall)

Ben Nicholson OM, 1943-45 (St Ives, Cornwall)  1943–5

Nicholson was at the centre of the London-based British avant-garde. Shortly before the war he moved to Cornwall with his wife Barbara Hepworth and their children. To earn a living he abandoned his white reliefs of the 1930s and returned to painting landscapes, which his dealers Alex Reid & Lefevre considered easier to sell. Landscapes, particularly those of British scenes, became popular during the war. This view of the harbour at St Ives is one of a series begun in 1939. They enabled Nicholson to develop ideas of the previous decade, particularly his experimentation with the positioning of objects in space. He added the Union Jack in the foreground as a gesture to celebrate V.E. Day and the end of the war.

Gallery label, September 2004

© Angela Verren Taunt 2020. All rights reserved, DACS

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artworks in War, Austerity and the Modern Spirit 1940–50

Sea Bird Forms

John Wells, Sea Bird Forms  1951

© The estate of John Wells

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artworks in War, Austerity and the Modern Spirit 1940–50

1945 (still life)

Ben Nicholson OM, 1945 (still life)  1945

In 1945 Nicholson returned to the subject of table-top still lifes, producing a series of works in which the foreground objects and background are compressed. In this picture the combination of subtle shades and tones with more vivid white and scarlet, is typical of the range of colours he favoured in the early post-war period. The colour contrasts are used to help define the individual shapes of the densely-grouped still life objects, within the overall very abstract composition.

Gallery label, August 2004

© Tate

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artworks in War, Austerity and the Modern Spirit 1940–50

Spiral Theme

Naum Gabo, Spiral Theme  1941

When Spiral Theme was shown in wartime London, it was greeted with popular acclaim. The transparent planes build upon and reveal the sections below, suggesting emergence and growth. The critic Herbert Read hailed it as 'the highest point ever reached by the aesthetic intuition of man'. Gabo confessed: 'It is still a mystery and puzzle to me as to what precisely it is ... that has moved their hearts.'

Gallery label, December 2000

The Work of Naum Gabo © Nina & Graham Williams / Tate, London 2020

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Drawing for ‘Sculpture with Colour’ (Forms with Colour)

Dame Barbara Hepworth, Drawing for ‘Sculpture with Colour’ (Forms with Colour)  1941

© Bowness

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artworks in War, Austerity and the Modern Spirit 1940–50

Green, Black and White Movement

Sir Terry Frost, Green, Black and White Movement  1951

© The estate of Sir Terry Frost

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artworks in War, Austerity and the Modern Spirit 1940–50

Spiral Motif in Green, Violet, Blue and Gold: The Coast of the Inland Sea

Victor Pasmore, Spiral Motif in Green, Violet, Blue and Gold: The Coast of the Inland Sea  1950

© Tate

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artworks in War, Austerity and the Modern Spirit 1940–50

Fenestration of the Ear (The Hammer)

Dame Barbara Hepworth, Fenestration of the Ear (The Hammer)  1948

Hepworth made a number of paintings based on her close observation of surgical operations. This is one of a series showing different stages of a delicate procedure to correct hearing loss. She was impressed by the 'the extraordinary beauty of purpose and co-ordination' of the surgeons and nurses, and observed how 'that unity... dictated a perfection of concentration, movement and gesture and... induced a spontaneous space composition'. Coinciding with the launch of the National Health Service, the harmony of this work took on a wider symbolism for an artist who believed passionately in the Welfare State.

Gallery label, August 2004

© Bowness

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artworks in War, Austerity and the Modern Spirit 1940–50

Landscape, West Penwith Moor

Adrian Stokes, Landscape, West Penwith Moor  1937

Stokes began to paint in 1936. He completed this view before beginning to study painting at the Euston Road School in autumn 1937. Penwith Moor is in West Cornwall, where Stokes lived for several years from 1939, at Carbis Bay, near St Ives. He came to think of West Cornwall, 'the penisula between the two seas, extending ... from St Ives to Land's End', within which this moor is located, as 'the only part of Britain belonging to the geography of the Ancient World'. He was acutely aware of the geology of a terrain and of its history and natural resources. It delighted him to think that the Romans had mined the Cornish landscape for copper.

Gallery label, September 2004

© The estate of Adrian Stokes

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artworks in War, Austerity and the Modern Spirit 1940–50

Island Sheds, St Ives No. 1

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Island Sheds, St Ives No. 1  1940

© Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust

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artworks in War, Austerity and the Modern Spirit 1940–50

Snow Falls on Exmoor

John A. Park, Snow Falls on Exmoor  1939

© Tate

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artworks in War, Austerity and the Modern Spirit 1940–50

Sobranie Collage

Margaret Mellis, Sobranie Collage  1942

© The estate of Margaret Mellis

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artworks in War, Austerity and the Modern Spirit 1940–50

Tol Pedn

John Tunnard, Tol Pedn  1942

Like a number of British artists, Tunnard was attracted to aspects of Surrealism in the late 1930s while retaining his independence. He exhibited at Peggy Guggenheim’s Surrealist-orientated gallery in London in 1939 before moving to Cornwall during the war. There he served as a coastguard. Tol-Pedn, Penwith, near to Tunnard’s home on the Lizard, is the most southerly point of the British mainland. Its concrete landmarks appear to have stimulated Tunnard’s abstraction of the landscape.

Gallery label, October 2011

© The Estate of John Tunnard

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Miner Probing a Drill Hole

Graham Sutherland OM, Miner Probing a Drill Hole  1942

Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

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Construction

Peter Lanyon, Construction  1947

Lanyon began making constructions in 1939, when he was working in Gabo's studio in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. He acknowledged Gabo as the biggest inspiration for his sculpture, as the title 'Construction' recalls. Between 1946 and 1947 he made five objects, although four of these were later destroyed. Lanyon's widow recalls that he was always putting together and taking apart works of this kind. Though still constructed, Lanyon's sculpture of the 1950s was more painterly in character. He described these later works as 'experiments in space to establish the illusion and the content of space in painting'.

Gallery label, August 2004

© The estate of Peter Lanyon

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West Penwith

Peter Lanyon, West Penwith  1949

The long, thin format of this painting, coupled with its palette of pale browns, greys and blues, may be seen to relate to a peninsular landscape, although references to the human figure also resonate in the image and shape of the work. The artist used oil glazes and a process of scraping to achieve the patchwork of colours that are evocative of the landscape of moorland, cliffs and granite boulders common to the western most region of Cornwall, from which the painting gets its title. Over and around this he painted a denser layer of pale blue, denoting perhaps the sea or the sky. While the painting can be understood as a generalised representation of a landscape, it is possible to read some aspects of the picture topographically – an intrusion of blue into the central form may refer to an estuary, possibly that of the Hayle River a few miles east of Lanyon’s native St Ives.

© Estate of Peter Lanyon / DACS 2020

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Construction

John Wells, Construction  1940–1

© The estate of John Wells

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artworks in War, Austerity and the Modern Spirit 1940–50

Marine Construction

John Wells, Marine Construction  1941

© The estate of John Wells

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artworks in War, Austerity and the Modern Spirit 1940–50

White Track

Peter Lanyon, White Track  1939–40

© The estate of Peter Lanyon

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Vase

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artworks in War, Austerity and the Modern Spirit 1940–50

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John Wells, Untitled  1945

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artworks in War, Austerity and the Modern Spirit 1940–50

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Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Rock Theme, St Just  1953

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Dame Barbara Hepworth, Oval Sculpture (No.2)  1943, cast 1958

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Art in this room

1943-45 (St Ives, Cornwall)
Ben Nicholson OM 1943-45 (St Ives, Cornwall) 1943–5
Sea Bird Forms
John Wells Sea Bird Forms 1951
1945 (still life)
Ben Nicholson OM 1945 (still life) 1945
Spiral Theme
Naum Gabo Spiral Theme 1941
Drawing for ‘Sculpture with Colour’ (Forms with Colour)
Dame Barbara Hepworth Drawing for ‘Sculpture with Colour’ (Forms with Colour) 1941
Green, Black and White Movement
Sir Terry Frost Green, Black and White Movement 1951

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