Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson A.R.A. (British, 1889-1946)
Marching Men pastel 24.1 x 18.6 cm. (9 1/2 x 7 1/3 in.)
PROVENANCE: Private Collection, U.K.
This portrait format pastel study circa 1916 relates to a master image, Nevinson's painting in landscape format Returning to the Trenches (1914-15) in the National Gallery of Canada (see Fig. 1). The oil depicts a unit of battle-weary French troops marching as one: a clean-sweeping, purging, shell-shaped phalanx, redolent of the move to machine-based war. First shown at the London Group ('The Intelligent Man's Royal Academy' - of which Nevinson was a founder member) in March 1915, it was a breakthrough work. Clearly influenced by Italian Futurism, and Cubism, it shows the artist using force lines, a suggestion of simultaniety in the blurred boots, and a sculptural shaping of human forms and military trappings, to create an intelligible and compelling image. Nevinson's oil echoes works by Russolo (The Rebellion, 1911), Kandinsky (Sketch for Composition [Battle], 1910) and Villon (Soldiers Marching, 1913). Nevinson, though, resists the intense colour oppositions of Russolo and Kandinsky, and the abstraction of the latter and Villon. He does, however, use Russolo's propulsive wedge of people in motion, if less stridently, and creates a rhythm of leaning rifles and marching boots Villon merely hints at.
There is a second pastel version of Returning to the Trenches, known as Marching Men (1916) (Imperial War Museum). This is in landscape format. It is very close to Trenches, with colour slightly muted. The portrait version is similar, but truncated, with slightly muted colours: no flesh colour but white, and no intense reds, but an orangey-red. It is, however, slightly bigger than the landscape version. There are two other versions of Trenches (and at least one other study): an etching (with the image reversed) entitled Returning to the Trenches and a striking woodcut On the Way to the Trenches which appeared in Wyndham Lewis's Blast (no.2, the 'War' issue). The number of versions underlines how important Nevinson himself felt the image. Although Trenches did not gain universal approval when first exhibited, it was hailed as 'a very oasis of intellectual clearness among a babel of artistic gibberish' (Evening News, 13 March 1915). It was part of a strong wave of modernist British art, which included Epstein's The Rock Drill.
Marching Men (pastel study) appears to have belonged to a collector who owned other Nevinson pictures, including one key war painting which he kept for over 50 years. A note on the title: Wyndham Lewis referred to Trenches as 'Marching Soldiers' when he reviewed the London Group exhibition, saying the soldiers 'have a hurried and harassed melancholy and chilliness that is well seen'.
We are grateful to Christopher Martin for compiling this catalogue entry.
Please note that this lot has been withdrawn from sale.