Victor Pasmore R.A. (British, 1908-1998) Abstract in White, Black and Ochre 64.2 x 73.6 cm. (25 1/4 x 29 in.) (including the artist's painted box frame) (Executed between 1951-3)

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Lot 83AR
Victor Pasmore R.A.
(British, 1908-1998)
Abstract in White, Black and Ochre 64.2 x 73.6 cm. (25 1/4 x 29 in.) (including the artist's painted box frame)

Sold for £ 100,062 (US$ 124,971) inc. premium
Victor Pasmore R.A. (British, 1908-1998)
Abstract in White, Black and Ochre
signed with initials and dated 'V.P. 1952' (lower right)
painted wood construction
64.2 x 73.6 cm. (25 1/4 x 29 in.) (including the artist's painted box frame)
Executed between 1951-3


  • Provenance
    The Artist, by whom gifted to his father
    Dr Edwin Stephen Pasmore, thence by family descent
    Private Collection, U.K.

    London, I.C.A., Victor Pasmore: Paintings and Constructions 1944-1954, March-May 1954,
    Bath, Victoria Art Gallery, Arts Council of Great Britain, Three Masters of Modern British Painting: Sir Mathew Smith, Victor Pasmore, Francis Bacon, 1958,; this exhibition travelled to Carlisle, Carlisle Art Gallery, Shrewsbury, Shrewsbury Art Gallery, Bournemouth, Bournemouth College of Art, Manchester, Manchester City Art Gallery, and Cheltenham, Cheltenham Art Gallery
    London, Drian Gallery, Sixth Annual January Exhibition, January 1962
    Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft Victor Pasmore, May-June 1962,
    London, Tate Gallery, Victor Pasmore: Retrospective Exhibition 1925-65, 14 May-27 June 1965, (as Painted Relief in White, Black and Ochre)

    Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore: A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Constructions and Graphics 1926-79, Thames & Hudson, London, 1980, (ill.b&w.)

    'The conversion of Victor Pasmore to abstract art was one of the most dramatic events in post-war British art.' (Ronald Alley, Tate Gallery catalogue)

    Only a handful of purely abstract works by Victor Pasmore dating from the first half of the 1950s have appeared at auction over the past thirty or so years. They are incredibly rare. Abstract in White, Black & Ochre (1951-3) was gifted by the artist to his father and has remained in the family collection ever since. This is testament to just how highly Pasmore regarded the importance of the present lot in his rapid transition to one of the leading British post-war abstract artists at the beginning of the 1950s. It is accompanied with an impressive exhibition history and was included in Pasmore's major Tate retrospective in 1965.

    Like Ben Nicholson (who was fourteen years his senior) during the early 1920s, Pasmore had flirted with abstraction at a specific moment in the early 1930s before he founded the Euston Road School. He joined the London Artists' Association in 1933, the same year Nicholson painted his seminal abstract work, 1933 (painting – milk and plain chocolate), and with Sir William Coldstream (see lot 6) and Claude Rogers participated in Zwemmer Gallery's notable 1934 show, Objective Abstractions. Only, Pasmore's contribution to the exhibition was not abstract but instead showed the influence of the Fauves and Cubists; Matisse and Picasso being the sources of his early inspiration. Unfortunately, the handful of abstract works Pasmore produced following the show, partly guided by Ben Nicholson's new avant-garde approach to his painting, were destroyed by him. As the decade wore on and Pasmore established his teaching, first at Fitzroy Street then Euston Road, pupils were directed to the naturalistic aesthetic of Degas, Cézanne, Sickert and Bonnard. Up until the mid-1940s this is the direction Pasmore's painting travelled in, but as the war drew to an end, experimentation began to re-appear. His Hammersmith paintings of the late 1940s show evidence of his interest in Seurat's Pointillism and Cezanne's later work with the use of multiple perspectives. Despite this, Pasmore felt unconvinced with his progress, and Ronald Alley in his introduction to Tate's retrospective exhibition describes the change which then occurred:

    'Therefore, in 1948 he decided to make a fresh start with abstract art and to explore all its possibilities in a completely scientific way, finding out what happened when one started with a square or a spiral or so on. He read the writings of Kandinsky, Mondrian, Arp and the other leading abstract artists, just as he had previously read those by the post-impressionists, and even made a compilation Abstract Art: Comments by some Artists and Critics, which was privately printed at the Camberwell School of Art in 1949. Knowledge of the post-war Parisian and American abstract movements had not reached England at the time and Pasmore's development was completely independent of them.' (Ronald Alley, Victor Pasmore, Retrospective exhibition 1925-65, Tate Publishing, 1965).

    'He believed that painting, being limited to two dimensions, could only represent space illusionistically and that abstract art needed to create an organic spatial relationship by developing into actual dimensions.' (Ronal Alley, Tate Gallery catalogue)

    To begin with, Pasmore's abstraction involved collages and two-dimensional paintings, but by 1948 the first constructed reliefs began to appear and were exhibited at Fitzroy Street in March 1952 and Redfern Gallery in May of the same year. Many of these were sadly destroyed by the artist, which makes Abstract in White, Black & Ochre among the earliest surviving constructions from this seminal period in Pasmore's career. They were partly informed by the writing of the American abstract artist Charles Biederman (1906-2004) in his book Art as the Evolution of Visual Knowledge (1951) in which he argued traditional painting was moribund and that the future lay in reliefs. But Pasmore was also aware of Ben Nicholson's groundbreaking work on his white reliefs of the 1930s and those later coloured reliefs during the war, having visited both him and Barbara Hepworth in St. Ives. Indeed, Pasmore's chosen palette and orthogonal design for Abstract in White, Black & Ochre has a remarkable affinity to a major war-time work of Ben Nicholson's, Painted Relief 1941 which had entered the esteemed private collection of Cyril S. Reddihough by 1948. There are of course significant differences, also; Nicholson's board has likely been carved from a single piece, whereas Pasmore's construction has been built up using individual sections added onto a base panel. Then, there are the all-important vertical black and cream-coloured projections which when viewed head-on are almost wafer thin. As the spectator moves from one side of the work to the other, however, the third dimension comes into play and lifts the work into an object of rich complexity and depth.

    Contemporaneous photographs of Pasmore's constructions at Redfern Gallery in May 1952 do exist. A number also incorporate sheets of machine-made, mass produced materials such as aluminium and perspex, as Pasmore enjoyed experimenting with the effects of their transparency and reflections. When looking at these surviving photographs and other Pasmore reliefs from the 1951-4 period it becomes evident that Abstract in White, Black and Ochre is among the most ambitious, complex and stimulating examples from this pioneering moment in the artist's development.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note the present work was gifted by the Artist to his brother Dr Stephen Pasmore as not as stated in the printed catalogue
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