Objects on a Beach, No.2 oil on canvas 64 x 76.3 cm. (25 1/4 x 30 in.) Painted in 1937
PROVENANCE: With Arthur Tooth & Sons, London, where purchased by John S. Lithiby Thence by family descent
EXHIBITED: Australia, British Council Fine Arts, Contemporary British Art, 1949, no.4, where lent by John S. Lithiby
Shortly after his divorce from wife Irene, Tristram Hillier took a studio near World's End in Chelsea in 1936. During this time, he continued his interest with the anchor as a motif in his work and, based on drawings he had made in France, painted several variations and views of them on beaches. Early examples of anchor paintings can be considered fairly straightforward, as in the case of Marine (1934, Pallant House, Chichester), where a large and perhaps obvious anchor dominates the foreground of the composition with boats and sea in the background. However, as the theme develops, a more menacing form comes into being as in the case of Object on a Beach (1937, Private Collection), where a complex and tortured anchor appears.
In Objects on a Beach, No.2 (1937), Hillier chooses to portray the anchor and twisted metal forms directly on the sand and their presence gives the sense of dominant and enigmatic sculptures. The scene, with further objects scattered around, is otherwise calm as gulls fly over a serene ocean and seemingly deserted landscape. The link with surrealism in the present work is clear and Hillier had been exposed to this through his contact with the Unit One group, which had been founded by Paul Nash in 1933 and included the likes of Edward Burra, Henry Moore and Edward Wadsworth. The relationship with the latter was a strong one and the influence of Wadsworth in works of this nature cannot be disputed. Hillier himself commented on Wadsworth, 'It was not, I think, until about 1935 that I began to discover what I personally wanted, and in that period I painted many seascapes, harbour scenes and the like, rather under the influence of Wadsworth, whom I knew well and worked with a great deal' (Jenny Pery, Painter Pilgrim, The Art and Life of Tristram Hillier, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2008, pp.66-67).
The final painting of this important series is Variation on the Form of an Anchor (1939) which resides in the collection of the Tate, London, and at 150 x 109 centre-meters is one of the largest and most abstract in Hillier's oeuvre. This dominating work was rescued from the artist's studio in Normandy prior to World War II and has been considered a landmark in Hillier's artistic development.