Modern British & Irish Art

Terry Frost: An Artistic Exploration

By Sotheby's

N ovember’s sale of Modern & Post-War British Art celebrates the very best in the British art scene over the past century. Featured within the sale are works that focus on the Post-War period, and the advancement of British Abstraction, led by the likes of Patrick Heron, William Scott, Peter Lanyon, Roger Hilton, Alan Davie and Terry Frost.

Frost is widely considered one of the past century’s most popular and sought-after artists, typically associated the coastal town of St Ives. Frost’s relocation to St Ives, following his demobilisation in 1946 resulted in his immediate immersion in one of the preeminent centres of avant-garde in the Post-War period. Lanyon, Hilton, Heron, together with Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson all formed part of an incredibly active centre of production and helped to promote the Cornish town as an artistic hub of international significance. Frost had already by this point spent several years painting, having been introduced to the artist Adrian Heath in a Prisoner of War camp.


Heath encouraged Frost to follow his artistic interests, and with an ex-serviceman’s grant he was accepted to study at Camberwell School of Art. Here he was introduced to another strand of artistic thought – Victor Pasmore. Like the St Ives artists Pasmore was treading a path that was drawing increasingly abstracted imagery from natural subject matter. However, whilst the St Ives tendency was to take an instinctive route to such abstraction, many of the artists associated with Camberwell were becoming increasingly interested in the theoretical aspects of composition. This simultaneous exposure to, and friendship within the two major emerging strands of British abstraction were key to establishing the unique position that Frost’s work of this period held, as seen so elegantly in his painting Grey and Red, which is to appear for the first time on the open market as part of our 21 November sale.

SIR TERRY FROST, GREY AND RED, 1958. Estimate: £70,000 – 100,000

Throughout the 1950s Frost’s work explored the dialectic of chaos and control, abandoning clear-cut structural compositions in favour of an assortment of forms and shapes, which float and sway within compositions. 


“When I make a painting it is with paint on a flat surface and belongs to itself. It is started by one human being wondering, observing, questioning, worrying, trying to see the truth, trying to penetrate the mystery of life." (Terry Frost, 1977)


This artistic exploration is clearly visible in Grey and Red, with its deep, rich palette, plunging shapes and emphatic brushstrokes, combined with the dynamism of the swooping sail shape that serves to lead the eye across the canvas. All of these factors work together to give the painting a striking confidence that sets it apart as one of the most exciting and engaging works created by the Artist during the 1950s, and one of the most vivid impressions of British Abstraction on a broader scale.

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