William Roberts R.A. (British, 1895-1980) Dominoes (Study for Jeu) 19 x 16 cm. (7 1/2 x 6 1/4 in.) (Executed 1914-1915)

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Lot 10AR
William Roberts R.A.
(British, 1895-1980)
Dominoes (Study for Jeu) 19 x 16 cm. (7 1/2 x 6 1/4 in.)

Sold for £ 12,500 (US$ 15,736) inc. premium
William Roberts R.A. (British, 1895-1980)
Dominoes (Study for Jeu)
signed 'William Roberts' (lower left) and partially titled 'Dominoes' (lower right)
pencil and pen and ink
19 x 16 cm. (7 1/2 x 6 1/4 in.)
Executed 1914-1915


  • Provenance
    Sale; Sotheby's, London, 11 December 1968, lot 292, where acquired by
    Anthony d'Offay Couper Gallery
    With Hamet Gallery, London, 8 January 1973, where acquired by
    Private Collection U.K.

    London, Anthony d'Offay Couper Gallery, William Roberts R.A. Drawings and Watercolours, 1915–1968, 23 September–10 October 1969, cat.no.2
    London, Hamet Gallery, William Roberts R.A.: A Retrospective Exhibition, 16 February–13 March 1971, cat.no.13
    London, Hayward Gallery, Vorticism and its Allies, 27 March-2 June 1974, cat.no.335

    William Roberts, 8 Cubist Designs, The Favil Press, London, 1969

    In July 1914, Percy Wyndham Lewis (with support from writer and poet Ezra Pound) effectively launched the Vorticist movement with the publication of a small magazine titled BLAST: The Review of the Great English Vortex. Whilst the movement drew on both continental Futurism and French Cubism it promoted an entirely new, English manifesto with a unique pictorial language. Unbeknownst to William Roberts, Lewis had reproduced two of his paintings – Dancers and Religion – within the publication and in doing so presented the young Roberts as a fully signed up 'Vorticist'. Initially dismayed by Lewis' forthright behaviour, it seems that he came to enjoy the notoriety surrounding BLAST and the public relations did his 19 year old reputation no harm. But following an initial boost came a period of poverty that forced the artist back to his parent's home in Hackney. The move did nothing to impede his creative output though and many paintings and drawings were produced in this late 1914-early 1915 period. All the oils from this time however are lost or destroyed and "it is only thanks to the several sketches, drawings and watercolours for these works that have surfaced over the years that we can appreciate the full extent of Roberts' radical abstraction" (Andrew Gibbon Williams, William Roberts, An English Cubist, Lund Humphries, 2004, p.27). The present work is such an example.

    Dominoes (Study for Jeu) is a rare and highly important drawing for the lost masterpiece titled Jeu and painted in 1915. Measuring an impressive 156.2 x 112.4 cm., it is recorded as being 'A simple composition of lines and planes, in fresh, brilliant colors; an abstract suggestion of gaming' (Richard Cork, Vorticism and Its Allies, exhibition catalogue, p.85), who goes on to suggest that 'the final painting would have been considerably more abstract' (than the present study).

    Jeu had been exhibited in the seminal Vorticist Exhibition. The Vorticist Group: The First Exhibition of the Vorticist Group, which was held at the Doré Galleries in June–July 1915. The show included no fewer than four oil paintings by Roberts – Overbacks, Two-Step, Jeu and Theatre, all lost or destroyed. Following the London exhibition, and in the midst of the First World War, Ezra Pound together with fellow American patron and collector John Quinn organised an exhibition in New York at The Penguin Club (Exhibition of the Vorticists, 10 January – 1 February 1917). Although Quinn financed the project (and bought nearly all the works afterwards), it was Pound who acted as curator and selected Jeu, amongst others, for inclusion. It was the last time the painting was to be seen in public and Roberts noted that 'Several paintings, including The Draughts Players and The Party, shown with the Vorticists at the Doré Galleries and afterwards bought by John Quinn of New York, were somehow destroyed in America' (William Roberts, Some Early Abstract and Cubist Work 1913-1920, 1957, p.8). Elsewhere Roberts suggests that The Draughts Players was probably a study for Jeu.

    The present lot was offered for sale as Dominoes, one of thirteen drawings and a sketchbook by Roberts all dating from 1914-1918, at Sotheby's in 1968. Also included in this 'Property of a Gentleman' were studies for two of the artist's aforementioned, most significant oils, Two Step and Theatre. In the ground-breaking 1915 exhibition, Two Step was numbered 3B, Theatre as 3D and sandwiched between them was Jeu as 3C. How fitting then that these studies were offered together from the same private collection, as Study for 'Theatre' (lot 286, purchased by Anthony D'Offay), a watercolour titled Two Step (lot 289, purchased for £1,100 and now in the Collection of The British Museum) and Study for Two Step (lot 290, where purchased by Tate Gallery).

    Dominoes (Study for Jeu) can therefore be considered as one of, if not the only, surviving record of one of Roberts' most important, lost oil paintings. Though inscribed 'Dominoes' it would appear the two figures are playing a board game and the scene is described from Roberts' favoured high vantage point. Considering the composition of this lot, it is safe to say that Jeu paved the way for later, known masterpieces such as The Chess Players 1929 which recently sold for £1,161,250 (see sale; Sotheby's, London, 10 May 2012, lot 17).

    We are grateful to David Cleall and Bob Davenport for their assistance in cataloguing this work.
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