Osborne Samuel Gallery usually start the year with the London Art Fair at the Business Design Centre. This year has been turned into an innovative on-line art fair which allows us to present the inventory we would have shown at the fair.
Our selection includes Modern British works of art including new acquisitions by gallery artists. Look out especially for an exceptional portrait by John Craxton from the Craxton Estate, seen for the first time.
In addition we will feature four contemporary artists who have become firm favourites at Islington: Brendan Stuart Burns, John Blackburn, Melanie Comber & Sean Henry.
Study for Sacrificial Figure, 1952
Gilded shell bronze and wire
20 x 23.5 x 15 cm.
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Offer Waterman, London
Private Collection, UK, Leeds
Osborne Samuel, London
The Sculpture of Reg Butler , Margaret Garlake, published by the Henry Moore Foundation in association with Lund Humphries, 2006, cat, no.110, illustrated in colour Plate 8, p.22
British Surrealism in Context: A Collector’s Eye, published by Jeremy Millings Publishings, 2009 to accompany the exhibition of the same title at Leeds City Art Gallery, 10th July – 1st November , 2009, p.127
Hanover Gallery, London, 1954
Curt Valentin, 1955, Cat no. 15
J B Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky, Reg Butler ‘A Retrospective Exhibition , October 22 – December 1, 1963, cat no.49
Museum of Modern Art (Mima), British Surrealism & Other Realities, Middlesborough, 23 May -17 August, 2008
Leeds Art Gallery, British Surrealism in Context: A Collector’s Eye, 10th July – 1st November , 2009,
Hepworth Wakefield, Post-War British Sculpture and Painting, 5 May 2012 – 3 November 2013
Reg Butler’s powerful Study for Sacrificial Figure was conceived concurrently with his prizewinning submission for ‘The Unknown Political Prisoner’ competition in 1952. Suggesting an elongated horse’s head, it appears half-flesh, half-skeleton, with sockets for eyes and twisted cage for a muzzle.
Butler created two sculptures titled Study for Sacrificial Figure, both exhibited at his solo Hanover Gallery exhibition in 1954. ₁ Tantalisingly, there is no visual record of the larger unlocated work, yet a context for both can be amplified through chronologically adjacent sculptures. Early maquettes for the ‘Unknown Political Prisoner’ monument (1952) imply confined figures, St Catherine (relief) (1953) consists of a wheel and racked torso, while the subject of Study for Figure Falling (1953) twists convulsively within its frame: all are victims. Through them, we can trace Butler’s interest in Germaine Richier’s sculpture, with its emphasis on the metamorphic, mutilated figure, as well as a close reading of Freud, focusing on notions of the ‘primitive’, the fetish and the sacrificial object.
Between 1951 and 1952 Butler had fluctuated between using iron, to create forged and welded sculpture, and a new technique: shell bronze. The process was laborious, involving creating a model, then a plaster mould, ‘pasting’ on shell bronze using oxyacetylene, then welding the cast sections together. Its principal advantage lay in the ability to replicate detail with great sensitivity, its disadvantage in the time required to patinate the resulting sculpture by gilding. Yet the technique’s liberating potential is instantly apparent. Butler had begun to feel constrained by the dominance of iron, as well as a need, in his sculpture, ‘to establish a greater physical presence, more directly related to the subject’. ₂ In Study for Sacrificial Figure the wax, poured and modelled over an armature, remains visible in the casting as a molten skin: an effect both tactile and shocking in its immediacy.
Butler’s Study for Sacrificial Figure was included in a solo exhibition at New York’s Curt Valentin Gallery in 1955. Reviewing it for The New York Times, Stuart Preston considered Butler to be one of the most vital artists to have emerged in Britain since the war. He identified Marini’s influence, in figures that were ‘strained, almost tormented, in their expressive distortions’, continuing,
They are stripped down to bone and muscle to which skin clings tightly as cerements. Economical and tense, heads thrown back and legs and arms akimbo, they electrify the space about them. ₃
Vital to this ability to animate space was the inclusion of plates, blocks and protruding wires, suggesting the sculptures’ means of construction at the same time as connecting them to the real world. In Study for Sacrificial Figure the result is complex. What might be a found object, relic of an apocalyptic disaster, might equally be a totemic head, accessory to an unspecified ritual.
Modern photographs of this work, taken in profile, have encouraged its identification as an animal’s head. Butler was himself a keen photographer, adept, as Margaret Garlake notes, at ‘exploiting contrasts of tone and lighting to create a minor drama in almost every print’. ₄ From 1949 onwards Butler took considerable care to document his work, also using photography as a tool to gauge the potential scale of a sculpture. Thus it is intriguing that the catalogue for a retrospective at the J. B. Speed Art Museum at Louisville in 1963, which included small-scale images of each of Butler’s sixty-one sculptures, shows Study for Sacrificial Figure photographed from above. ₅ From this vantage the sculpture appears quite different: a tortured figure, quasi-human, with spine arched, arms thrust outwards, and a piteous head. Voids which suggested eye sockets now imply wounds to the torso, and the twisted fuselage beneath the sculpture perhaps indicates a rack, or its tethering to the ground. While the photographer is uncredited (was it Butler, or did he approve the image?), it seems clear that either interpretation is valid, and that this compelling sculpture derives its strength from such ambiguity.
Even as he struggled to articulate his thoughts on Butler’s new work, destined for the Venice Biennale in 1952, Herbert Read had noted as much. The British Pavilion included six sculptures by Butler (three iron, three bronze), identified as single female figures, a couple (girl and boy), and an insect. Tracing their origin to a ‘precise study of the morphology of nature’, Read identified Butler’s mode of transformation as the interchange of species to create ‘convincing hybrids, endowed with vitality and grace’. ₆ Study for Sacrificial Figure, contemporary with this reading, hovers uncannily between categories – between animal, human and object.
1.The Hanover Gallery exhibition catalogue lists Study for Sacrificial Figure (1952), length 11”, cat. 5, and Study for Sacrificial Figure (1952), length 22”, cat. 6. The catalogue entry (no. 110, p. 134) in Margaret Garlake, The Sculpture of Reg Butler (Lund Humphries / The Henry Moore Foundation, 2006), conflates these two sculptures.
2. Reg Butler, ‘The Venus of Lespugue and Other Naked Ladies’, The William Townsend Lecture (11 November 1980), quoted in Reg Butler (London: The Tate Gallery, 1983), p. 89.
3. Stuart Preston, ‘Recent Sculpture and Painting’, The New York Times (16 January 1955).
4. Garlake, The Sculpture of Reg Butler, p. 60.
5. Reg Butler (J. B. Speed Museum, Louisville, Kentucky, 1963), cat. 49. The catalogue includes an essay by the curator, Addison Franklin Page (1911–1999), who visited Butler at his studio in 1960.
6. Herbert Read, ‘New Aspects of British Sculpture’, catalogue essay for the XXVI Biennale, Venice (1952).
Winged Figures, 1970
30 x 24 x 20 cm.
Stamped 'CHADWICK', the reference number '615', dated and numbered from the edition
Edition of 6
Private Collection, UK (1988)
Private Collection, UK
Osborne Samuel, London
Dennis Farr and Eva Chadwick, Lynn Chadwick, Sculptor, with a Complete Illustrated Catalogue 1947-2005, Lund Humphries, Aldershot, 2006, cat. no.615, illustrated p.272 (another cast)
Gloucester City Art Gallery, Lynn Chadwick , September – October 1972 (another cast), with tour to City Art Gallery, Plymouth
Barrels in a Yard, c.1955
Oil on canvas
47.5 x 35 cm.
Signed lower right
Osborne Samuel, London
During the mid-1950s Clough’ s renowned interest in industrial themes dominated her subject matter. Working harbours such as Lowestoft, lorry drivers, print making technicians at the London art schools where she taught, and manual workers peopled her compositions. These labourers were however generic, rather than individualistic and were intimately connected with their working environments. The solitary figure in Barrels in a Yard focuses attention at compositional mid-point and acts as guardian of the encased freight being processed in the yard. Further site-specific details are absent, so we could be at a dockyard, a pub, a factory or an unloading bay. The palette is similarly restricted, in this example to a dirty cream and blue-grey scheme that tonally unifies the picture, the sole chromatic highlight provided by the circular acid yellow of one of the barrels. The spatial context is also established through a dark grey foreground column at right that pushes the rest of the picture back into a distanced atmospheric recess.
It is clear that Clough commonly subjected the thematic material of her art to a stringent formalist criterion; in other words specific figurative sources were almost afterthoughts – a kind of iconographic camouflage – grafted onto the main abstract idea. The interplay between the mysterious and the overtly commonplace gives a compelling ambiguity to Clough’ s work, the popularity of which continues to grow with time. Perhaps this appeal is based on Michael Harrison’ s contention that Clough’ s, “painting language was not just that of a painter, but also of a wartime cartographer, a graphic designer in her youth and a life-long printmaker”.
Head of Young Man, c.1947 / 8
Oil on panel
44 x 30 cm.
The Estate of the Artist
Until John Craxton escaped to Greece, in the spring of 1946, his images of lonely figures in menaced landscapes were emblematic self-portraits. He found himself in the Aegean and became a consummate portraitist of other people. Never previously exhibited, this compelling likeness dates from the artist’s early years on the island of Poros, where he depicted fishermen, naval academy trainees and the Mastropetros family who hosted him. Joined by Lucian Freud for seven months, Craxton produced portraits of the teenage Petros Mastropetros, but this intense and intimate image may depict an older brother, Dinos, with whom the artist had the closest relationship.
November 58, 1958
Oil and gouache on paper
70 x 45 cm.
Signed and dated lower right
The Waddington Galleries, London
Private Collection, UK (purchased from the above by an long term employee of the gallery)
Offer Waterman & Co, London
Private Collection, UK
The Waddington Galleries, London
Offer Waterman & Co, London
‘My main interest, in my painting, has always been in colour, space and light…and space in colour is the subject of my painting today to the exclusion of everything else’
Patrick Heron 1958
In 1956 Heron returned to Cornwall after spending over a decade in London and inspired by the gardens surrounding his new home Eagles Nest, he began his ‘stripe paintings’ and his first ‘garden paintings.’ The development from his figurative work was in part a response to the work of American Abstract Expressionists whose work he saw as bringing ‘a new kind of energy and inventiveness’, but also from the continual influence of the great French colourists Bonnard and Matisse. From 1958 he began to paint fields of colour containing soft edged squares and discs. In 1963 the critic Norbert Lynton wrote the defining phrase about Heron’s latest paintings, ‘it is not possible even to distinguish significantly between the forms and the colour fields they inhabit’.
Oil on canvas
60.5 x 50.5 cm.
Signed and dated verso
Osborne Samuel Gallery
In 1965, at the height of his career, Hilton dismantled his London studio and moved to Cornwall, where he had painted since the 1950s. His new studio was in a cottage in Botallack, on the first floor overlooking the moors. It was there that he would paint Untitled (1971), now in the collection of the Tate. That same year, 1971, the Waddington Galleries presented Hilton’s sixth solo exhibition of paintings and drawings. Norbert Lynton, reviewing the exhibition, noted a dazzling variety among the works, some apparently referential, others abstract, a ‘gamut of possible marks and splotches, lines, colours’. The common denominator was freshness: ‘Each [painting] is driven home and left to its own devices, sufficient and vibrant, unpropped by theory or process’.₁
Although Hilton painted less and less during these later years, as his health declined, he did so with intensity. His work continued to walk a tightrope between figuration and abstraction, with curves suggesting breasts or hills, hard lines the outline of a house or a table’s edge. This allusiveness had been noted as early as 1958, in terms of landscape, but it was not until 1974 that there was critical acknowledgement of ‘a streak of the erotic’ in Hilton’s painting.₂ In Untitled (1970) there is an ambiguous interplay between landscape and the figure. The painting’s tonality suggests warm earth colours, including a strangely defined vegetal form, but the delineation, through drawing, evokes human contours.
₁ Norbert Lynton, ‘Waddington Galleries, London’, Studio International (November 1971), p. 195–6.
₂ Michael Shepherd, ‘Streak of the Erotic’, Sunday Telegraph (17 March 1974).
Standing and Seated Figures, 1948
Coloured crayon, ink and pencil on paper
29.5 x 24.5 cm.
Signed lower right
Gifted by the artist to his nephew as a wedding present (Albert Spencer Speight)
Thence by descent
Private collection UK
Recorded in the Henry Moore Foundation Archives as HMF2440a
The Henry Moore Foundation has suggested a date of 1948 for the drawing and that it originally was part of the 1947-49 sketchbook.
“My drawings are done mainly as a help towards making sculpture – as a means of generating ideas for sculpture, tapping oneself for the initial idea: as a way of sorting out ideas and developing them.
Also sculpture compared with drawings is a slow means of expression, and I find drawing a useful outlet for ideas which there is not time enough to realise as a sculpture. And I use drawing as a method of study and observation of natural forms (drawing from life, drawings of bones, shells etc.)”
Notes on sculpture, (1937) reprinted in ‘Henry Moore Complete Sculpture, vol 1, published by Lund Humphries, 1988, p.xxxv
Two Piece Reclining Figure: Maquette No. 1, 1960
12.5 x 24.2 x 10.5 cm.
Signed and numbered from the edition on top of the base. Stamped with the foundry mark 'H. NOACK BERLIN' (on the side of the base)
Edition of 12
Acquired directly from the artist
Private collection, Maryland
A. Bowness (ed.), Henry Moore, Complete Sculpture 1955-1964, Vol. 3, London, 2005, no. 473, p. 46 (another cast illustrated p. 47).
A cast from the edition is owned by MOMA, USA and The Kröller Müller, The Netherlands.
“I did the first sculpture in two pieces almost without intending to. But after I’d done it, then the second one became a conscious idea. I realised what an advantage a separated two-piece composition could have in relating figures to landscape.
[Moore] walked over to Reclining Figure No. II, put his hands on the knees and the breasts. ‘Knees and breasts are mountains,’ he said. ‘Once these two parts become separated, you don’t expect it to be a naturalistic figure; therefore, you can more justifiably make it like a landscape or a rock.’ ₁
Moore apparently separated the reclining figure almost without intention. Once done, however, he realised the potential of the act. Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 1 (1959), enlarged from a maquette not dissimilar to the one illustrated here, was sited by William Keswick on his estate at Glenkiln in Scotland, where it could be seen isolated on the horizon. None of the sculptures Keswick positioned was visible from the house, or from one another. As Moore commented, ‘They are far apart. Not in sight of each other. Half a mile apart – or more. They possess their environment.’ ²
The landscape of rock and moor is a plausible location, too, for Two Piece Reclining Figure: Maquette No. 1 (1960). Presented as two discrete sections, it suggests a boulder split into parts related by form and texture. Both are square yet irregular, geometric yet organic: deep vertical grooves recur in each, recalling a fault in the rock. Whether the piece is imagined as abstract or as a figure – much as rocks in the landscape accrue the names of people or objects from their distinctive shapes – is in the viewer’s eye.
₁ Carlton Lake, ‘Henry Moore’s World’, Atlantic Monthly (January 1962), p. 44; quoted in Alan Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations (Aldershot: Lund Humphries, 2002), p. 288.
² Moore, interviewed in Art and Artists (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1956), p. 104–7; quoted in Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, p. 282.
Pencil on artist's prepared card
37 x 48 cm.
Inscribed verso 'Assisi / Oct 8-55 / Ben Nicholson'. Blind stamped 'REEVES BRISTOL BOARD' (upper right)
The Leger Galleries, London
Osborne Samuel, London
Nicholson’s work in Italy, although closely related to the central concerns of his art, is a special category in his oeuvre, which demonstrates his appreciation of Italian architecture and landscape. He visited Italy in 1950 and this was his first trip to the country since the end of the Second World War. Nicholson produced various drawings of some of his most favourite views throughout Italy – the regions of Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria. Peter Khoroche has commented that, “laying no claim to a technical or historical knowledge of architecture, what interested him was the shape, the proportion, the lie of a building…Building, like objects, were a starting point only, naturally there was no point in mere imitation…Architecture in landscape offered an opportunity to combine his love of precise structure with his feeling of poetry and acute sensitivity to the spirit of place”.
Eric and Gervase, 1969
53 x 77 cm.
Signed and dated lower right in pencil.
£18,000 (exclusive of taxes)
The watercolour is one of a number Procktor made from drawings made in New York, when he, Gervase Griffiths and Ossie Clark were staying at the apartment of John Kloss, a fashion designer friend of Clark’ s who was away on business. The watercolours were made when Procktor was back at home in London.
The following is taken directly from Ian Massey’ s book, Patrick Procktor: Art and Life , page 111:
Eric Emerson, a dancer who had appeared in Warhol’ s 1967 film Chelsea Girls, joined Procktor, Griffiths and Clark at the apartment. Over a couple of days and through the night of the sixth and seventh of December they took LSD. The eleventh-floor apartment overlooked Central Park and had mirrored walls, so that the effect was of the park entering the room. When the moon rose, its light was reflected in the mirrored room and combined with the reflections of plant foliage – all was magnified and made stranger by the effects of drugs. Procktor made a series of annotated drawings in pen and pencil on sheets of paper joined together as 180-degree panoramas. Back in London he was to develop watercolours from these drawings, in which he played with changes of scale in order to capture something of the disorientation of the experience.
This is the footnote relating to the above text: Eric Emerson, born 1945. Appeared in four Warhol films, including Lonesome Cowboys , 1969.Died as result of drug overdose on 28th March 1975. See Jean Stein’ s biography of Edie Sedgwick, Edie: an American Biography , 2006, p 276 for an anecdote about Emerson.
Approaching Harvest, 1952
Oil on canvas
30.3 x 41 cm.
Signed and dated 'Reynolds 52' lower right
Redfern Gallery Ltd, London
Captain D. de Pass (purchased from the above 25 February 1953)
Thomas Agnew & Sons, London (no. 29595)
Private Collection, UK
Likely exhibited at: London, Redfern Gallery Ltd, Alan Reynolds, 1953, no.2
Alan Reynolds grew up in Suffolk, with its tradition of Gainsborough and Constable, and was drawn early to the landscape and to botany. Post-war he studied at Woolwich Polytechnic, then gained a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, but stayed only a year. He was already exhibiting at the Redfern, and his paintings – imbued with the spirit of Klee – were garnering acclaim. Such landscapes had as their basis a clear-eyed knowledge. Reynolds drew and painted assiduously from nature: grasses, seeds, dandelion clocks, growing tendrils and leaves. His studies, monochrome or coloured with gouache or watercolour, were annotated with neat ink observations about plant growth, crowded in margins or tentatively crossing the image. When Reynolds married Vona Darby, in 1957, his gift to her was an album filled with drawings, pressed flowers and seed pods. Yet such source material was neither collected nor plundered unthinkingly. Reynolds described his quest for structure as a process whereby a ‘subject or motif must be transformed and become an organic whole’.1 Reynolds’ stated aim can be linked to his passion for music, in particular fugues or contrapuntal textures. It is therefore not surprising that he was attuned also to the rhythm of nature, which follows a parallel cycle of statement, development, recapitulation and cadence. In the mid-1950s Reynolds painted a quartet of paintings based on the seasons, which extended to a satellite series of around ninety drawings, watercolours and preliminary studies in oils, exhibited at the Redfern Gallery in 1950’s. By coincidence, after Reynolds had begun this series the Contemporary Art Society invited some sixty British painters and sculptors to create a work based on ‘The Seasons’. The resulting exhibition was held at the Tate from March to April 1956, running concurrently with Reynolds’ solo exhibition at the Redfern.
The Tate purchased in the same year, Alan Reynold’s Summer: Young September’s Cornfield.
Approaching Harvest dates from this important period in Reynolds career, the organic forms a still life within the reduced but richly painted landscape. The rhythms of elements weave around the structure, requiring the viewer’s gaze to nimbly move across the patterned surface.
1.Reynolds, in Alan Reynolds, (London: Redfern Gallery, 1953
San Quirico d’Orcia I, 1956
Oil on canvas
94 x 150 cm.
Signed and dated 1956. Also signed, titled, dated 1956 and inscribed verso
Private Collection, UK
Christies, 1983, December 19th, Lot 130
Private Collection, UK (purchased from the above)
Osborne Samuel, London
After winning the Rome Prize in 1955, on graduating from the Royal College of Art, Joe Tilson travelled to Italy. There he met his future wife, the artist Joslyn Morton, and together they shared a studio at Casa Frollo on the Giudecca in Venice, where they would marry a year later. Thus began a profound relationship with Italy, which has provided both an anchor and a creative focus for Tilson’s work, from early paintings to the recent brightly coloured Postcards from Venice (2014–15).
During the 1950s Tilson made his first paintings of Tuscany, a landscape that had nurtured and informed the work of Renaissance artists such as Giovanni di Paolo, Simone Martini and Sassetta. The Val d’Orcia is distinctive for its flat chalk plains and conical hills. Over centuries, the terrain has eroded to form alternating calanchi (furrows) and biancane (sedimentary clay outcrops): the Crete Senesi, described by Iris Origo as ‘bare and colourless as elephants’ backs’. ₁ In San Quirico d’Orcia I (1956), Tilson renders this landscape using thick impasto, bulked with sand and grit, and a palette drawn from the dust-coloured valley. There is an insistent rhythm to the patterning of hills against plateau and sky. While the composition possesses a strong tonal unity, there is also mutability in its shading and contour – from the warmth of terracotta to chalk-white, cadmium yellow, and a misty blue light touching the hills.
₁ Iris Origo, Wartime in Val d’Orcia (London: Jonathan Cape, 1947), p. 15–16.
An Orchard by the Railway, 1945
Pen, ink, wash and gouache on paper
29 x 38 cm.
Signed and dated in pencil in the lower right of the painting. Inscribed on verso 'An orchard by the railway' / 'Gouache 1945' by the artist.
Gift from Vaughan to his friend the American artist Bernard Perlin (1918-2014)
Sir Jeffrey Tate
For the later part of the war Vaughan was stationed at Eden Camp, near Malton, in Yorkshire. Army life precluded him setting up a functioning studio in his barracks. Despite this significant limitation, he was determined to continue painting and reduced both the scale and the materials with which he worked. He produced a series of small paintings in gouache with additions of mixed media and described this combination as ‘ a volatile medium’ .
Vaughan’ s paintings from this period record his daily life in the army, the landscape around him and, occasionally, the activities of the local farmers, sowers and fruit-pickers. Schoolboys and young children also feature in his compositions, frequently accompanied by older figures, (see Yorkshire Lane with Figures, 1945, Orchard Scene with Boys Wrestling, 1945, Man and Child on the Moors, 1946). Here the two boys have been gathering fruit from the apple tree behind them. One has filled his wheelbarrow and the other holds his crop of fruit in his hands. An old man accompanies them, his walking stick in one hand as he raises up his other hand in surprise. All three have stopped in their tracks and look towards us, as though we have startled them. This viewer interaction is notable since it is an uncommon feature in Vaughan’ s work. The reason for it is explained in a letter from him to John Minton written from Eden Camp in July 1945:
Actually I’ ve been sparring around with some paintings lately. There’ s a wheelbarrow full of weeds and two people. The sun is shining. There is a gardener and two children in an orchard looking up at a passing train…here are the ochre and umber washes. Here comes the nervous sensitive line.
Translucent inky washes in the background contrast with the more detailed passages of drawing on the figures and tree. We are reminded of the ink drawings and paintings of trees and orchards by Samuel Palmer that were such an influence on the Neo-Romantic painters at this time. However, there is something more disturbing and unsettling in Vaughan’ s. Paintings such as An Orchard by the Railway contain neurotic atmospheres as though they represent scenes taken from a dream. The anxieties and uncertainties of the war, of course, add to this effect, as did Vaughan’ s troubled emotional life.
Oil and pencil on canvas board.
25.1 x 35.2 cm.
Signed twice, dated 1948 and inscribed 'Meadow Studio / Trewarveneth / Newlyn, Cornwall' verso
George Dix, New York, New York (acquired directly from the above in the late 1940s).
George Dix was an art dealer and collector who had a partnership with R. Kirk Askew at Durlacher Brothers and later, after Durlacher closed in 1967, he opened his own gallery in New York City.
By family descent.
Private Collection, Charlottesville, Virginia
Osborne Samuel, London
Wells lived in Ditchling in Sussex until the early 1920s but was born in London in 1907. He attended University College Hospital from 1925 and qualified as a GP in 1930. He took up an appointment as the GP for the Scilly Isles from 1936-45 having worked in a number of hospitals prior to this appointment.
He was largely self-taught apart from attending evening classes at St Martins School of Art in the late 1920s and his medical training during the day. Apart from that the only other training was studying under Stanhope Forbes in Newlyn during a visit to Cornwall in 1928.
Whilst in Cornwall that year he was introduced to Christopher Wood and Ben and Winifred Nicholson. Ben became a life-long friend and when time allowed Wells would make the occasional trip to visit him in his Hampstead studio. In 1938 Nicholson had married Barbara Hepworth and moved to St Ives in 1939 with their triplets, staying temporarily with Adrian Stokes and his painter wife Margaret Mellis, to escape the ravages of the bombing in London.
During the war years Naum Gabo, an influential sculptor, theorist, and key figure in Russia’s post-Revolution avant-garde and in the development of twentieth-century sculpture moved to Cornwall. During his visits to Nicholson and Hepworth, Wells met Gabo who became a major and lasting influence upon him.
After the war Wells decided to become a full-time professional artist and bought one of Forbes’s former studios in the artistic community of Newlyn. With his new-found confidence he became a founder member of the Crypt Group in 1946 and the Penwith Society in 1949. From here on his career climbed and he began exhibiting extensively; in 1946 an exhibition with Winifred Nicholson at the Lefevre Gallery, London, in 1947 with Ben Nicholson, Hepworth and Peter Lanyon at Downing’s Bookshop in St Ives, at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, Paris, in 1949 (Salon des Réalités Nouvelles were an exhibiting society devoted to pure abstract art founded in Paris in 1939), at the 1951 São Paolo Biennale and at the Durlacher Gallery, New York, in 1952, 1958 and 1960.
The present work, Untitled, 1948 was bought directly from Wells in the 1940’s by George Dix, a partner at the Durlacher Gallery and remained in his collection. Dix was stationed in London during the Second World War and remained there for a time afterwards. During this period in England, he befriended many of the luminaries of mid-century British culture, among them Wells, Vaughan and Piper, along with famed sculptor Henry Moore. He maintained these relationships even after his return to America, where he worked as a partner in the New York office of the bi-continental gallery Durlacher Brothers. In Manhattan, Dix remained part of the intelligentsia, enjoying the company and friendship of Gore Vidal and Leonard Bernstein, among others.
Wells was an independent figure, managing without a dealer until Waddington Galleries gave him a solo exhibition in 1960 followed by a second in 1964 which did not do well commercially due to the more challenging hard edge work he was producing.
In the mid-1960s he acquired a second studio in Newlyn that for almost 30 years he shared with his great friend, the sculptor Denis Mitchell. From this time onwards Wells suffered a fallow period commercially until the re-emergence of interest in the post-1939 Modern movement of artists based in and around St Ives. This benefitted from a pivotal Tate Gallery exhibition in 1985, St. Ives, 1939-64: Twenty-Five Years of Painting, Sculpture and Pottery, which included seven works by Wells.