Details & Cataloguing

Modern & Post-War British Art


Patrick Heron
signed twice, titled and inscribed on the stretcher bars
oil on canvas
152.5 by 122cm.; 60 by 47¾in.
Lire le rapport d'état Lire le rapport d'état


Waddington Galleries, London, where acquired by Robert Hosdel, 26th July 1961
His sale, Sotheby's London, 3rd November 1982, lot 171
The New Art Centre, London, where acquired by Ken Powell in 1985
His sale, Sotheby's London, 28th June 2006, lot 60
Richard Green, London


London, Waddington Galleries, Four English Middle Generation Painters, May 1959, cat. no.24, illustrated;
London, Architectural Association School of Architecture, short-term loan, 1959;
Paris, Centre d'Art Plastique Contemporain, English Contrasts - Peintres et Sculpteurs Anglais 1950-1960, September - November 1984, un-numbered exhibition;
Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, New Beginnings: Post-War British Art from the Collection of Ken Powell, 13th November 1992 - 2rd January 1993, cat. no.34, illustrated, with tour to Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield and Courtauld Institute Galleries, London.


By the time Patrick Heron completed Blue Painting (Squares and Disc) in February 1959, he was near the end of a three-year-long burst of creativity and experimentation that had established him, without doubt, as one of the most avant-garde painters working in Britain and which was to lead to international recognition as one of the foremost abstract artists of the post-war period. In these short years, Heron definitively laid down on canvas those ideas on the relationship of space to colour (‘space in colour’ to use his phrase) that  he had eloquently discussed in his many articles on European and American art. Through intense passages of painting, during which entire compositions could be mapped out in just a few hours, as well as considered returns to the easel, where he would adjust, overlay and re-balance, the palimpsest nature of the work always left exposed, Heron explores the interplay between layers and colours, his surfaces that have been scrubbed-back or laid over in thick impasto figuring the ghost in the machine.

In 1956, Heron had bought Eagle’s Nest, perched above the cliffs at Zennor in Cornwall. Immediately its sheltered garden, full of camellia and azalea, burning bright with colour, provided inspiration – for the so-called ‘garden paintings’: large, often vertical-format works that steer a course between the loose figuration of late Monet and the very latest mode of abstraction from Paris, tachisme, the European version of New York Abstract Expressionism, in which the brushstroke – or tache­ – represents nothing but itself and its own making. However, what was to be the more lasting influence was the white light of West Penwith – a promontory surrounded on three sides by sea – which is at its most dazzling at Zennor, high above a vast panorama of sea, which is ink black under cloud but bright as chrome when the sun hits it. This environment allowed Heron to create a form of painting that is purely about colour, unrestrained by representation and metaphor.  In Blue Painting (Squares and Disc), the blue lozenges dance and refract on a shallow surface and then suddenly appear deep and profound. Similarly the two areas of pink appear both behind and in front of the blues that surround them, an optical effect as much to do with their shape as it is to do with colour or weight of paint, and all the time one senses the paint layers beneath, visible at the edges of the shapes and also echoing within areas of what initially seem to be flat colour.

Inevitably, Heron’s work of this period is seen in comparison to that of Mark Rothko – who came to Cornwall in August 1959 (the year he was working on the Seagram Murals) to meet those artists he knew of and admired, painting with a freedom he felt difficult to achieve in New York.  Yet paintings such as the present work, or the vertical and horizontal ‘stripe’ works of the previous year, are radically different from Rothko’s formal, hieratic works. They are more dynamic, complex – in both colour and handling – and in a way closer to Pollock in their surface tension. Yet like Rothko, and unlike Pollock, in the end they are about a deep saturation of the mind’s eye, with colour unchained. 


The Estate of Patrick Heron is preparing the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the Artist's work and would like to hear from owners of any works by Patrick Heron, so that these can be included in this comprehensive catalogue. Please write to The Estate of Patrick Heron, c/o Modern & Post-War British Art, Sotheby's, 34-35 New Bond Street, London, W1A 2AA.

Modern & Post-War British Art