- Patrick Heron
- the black fish on the red table 1954
- signed and dated 54
- oil on canvas
- 76 by 63.5cm.; 30 by 25in.
Eastbourne, Towner Art Gallery, Heron/Hitchens: Domestic Interiors, 11 December 2004 - 27 February 2005.
In 1946 Heron had seen the large exhibition of recent works by Georges Braque held at the Tate Gallery and was enormously impressed by the elder painter's ability to create space and depth with planes of pure colour, and later that year he wrote a long article on Braque for The New English Weekly. Having visited Braque in France in 1949 and looked closely at Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck, Heron's work of the late 1940s and early 1950s has a very strong French flavour, particularly in its use of colour. The use of everyday kitchen objects as subject matter was common currency in British art at the time, something that is especially true of the work of Heron's close friend William Scott. But where Scott's interiors of the early 1950s tend toward a darker tonality with a strong emphasis on the paint surface, Heron's work, as here, frequently uses flat areas of bright colour and a distinctive network of black outlines to define the forms. This closeness with Scott's work may be in part, as Heron himself acknowledged, due to the fact that few other painters of their generation and outlook had such close experience of the French masters.
Using these outlines, Braque, Matisse and Picasso endeavoured to organise their subjects into an unmistakably flattened picture plane where spatial recession was created by colour. In Heron's adoption of this technique, we are able to retrospectively see how he was moving towards what he described as non-figurative abstraction, seen most fully in the 'garden' and 'stripe' paintings of 1956-57. The gradual process by which this was achieved is clearly seen in Heron's own writings of the period, especially in the introduction to the 1953 Hanover Gallery exhibition Space in Colour. Here he argued that the painter's gift was the ability to combine the illusionism of space and form, created by colour and line, with the physical sensation of the two-dimensional canvas and thus create a pictorial world in which familiar objects are imbued with a life and existence of their own.
Dominated by the simple form of the table and chair, the shallow pictorial space of chair, table and window is rendered with masterly economy, the carefully balanced visual shift between the red of the chair and the blue of the floor creating a depth within the image that is heightened by the deftly introduced illusionism of the window casement that opens into the room. The unashamed delight in the decorative details of the ladder-back chair gives the painting a further feeling of domesticity and informality, and although the composition is very carefully composed, it appears rather less obviously 'posed' than some of Heron's table-top paintings of the period. Like many of his paintings in the early 1950s, Black Fish on a Red Table is at base a simple domestic picture which is transformed via colour into a space that one almost feels able to step into.