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Details & Cataloguing

The Robert Devereux Collection of Post-War British Art in aid of the African Arts Trust, Sale 1

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Bryan Wynter
1915-1975
THE INDIAS 1956  
signed, titled, and dated 1956 on the reverse
oil on canvas
223 by 110cm.; 88 by 43¼in.
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Provenance

Monica Wynter
Waddington Galleries, London
Jonathan Clark & Co, London, where acquired by the present owner in March 2004

Exhibited

London, Redfern Gallery, Bryan Wynter, 1957;
Rome, Rome-New York Art Foundation, New Trends in British Art, undated catalogue, circa 1958, cat. no.23 ii;
British Council tour of Australia, Recent Paintings by 7 British Artists, 1959;
British Council tour of Mexico and East Africa, Recent Paintings by 6 British Artists, 1960-1;
London, Hayward Gallery, Arts Council of Great Britain, Bryan Wynter 1915-1975: Paintings, Kinetics and Works on Paper, 5th - 30th August 1976, cat. no.28, illustrated in the catalogue, unpaginated;
London, Tate Gallery, St Ives 1939-64: Twenty Five Years of Painting Sculpture and Pottery, 13th February - 14th April 1985, cat. no.188, lent by Monica Wynter.

Literature

Chris Stephens, Bryan Wynter, Tate Gallery Publishing, London 1999, p.51, pl.42;
Michael Bird, Bryan Wynter, Lund Humphries, Farnham, 2010, illustrated pl.77, p.85.

Catalogue Note

The present work, painted in 1956, dates from a period when Wynter was beginning to move away from the more obviously landscape-inspired abstract manner which he had developed during the early 1950s. Frequently of a physically imposing size, these works use a very personal and distinctive technique to build up dense overlapping layers of paint that disturb the picture surface whilst at the same time creating a sense of depth, of images continually overlaid and obscuring their predecessors whilst still hinting at their own forms. Indeed, they seem to perfectly illustrate the words of Patrick Heron, '...the secret of good painting...lies in its adjustment of...the illusion, indeed the sensation, of depth, and...the physical reality of the picture surface...' (P.Heron, Space in Colour, introduction to exh.cat., Hanover Gallery, London 1953).

However, the sheer bravura of the mark-making inherent in Wynter's painting of the late 1950s inevitably led to comparisons with the contemporary American artists whose work, shown at the Tate Gallery in 1956 and at the ICA in 1958, was now available for first hand inspection by British artists. The gestural 'white writing' paintings of Mark Tobey, first developed at Dartington Hall in the 1930s, held obvious similarities, but Wynter's work, with its vastly increased scale was perhaps superficially more akin to European artists as varied as Georges Mathieu or Jules Bissier. However, Wynter's wide-ranging interests, including his occasional use of mind-altering drugs, mean that the paintings combine elements of philosophical considerations of time and memory with a physical involvement with the experience of natural phenomena and growth.

The Indias must rank as one of Wynter's most important paintings, and is certainly the most significant example of his oeuvre to ever be offered at auction. Belonging to a body of large-scale paintings produced in 1956 such as High Country (fig. 1), The Indias initially dazzles the viewer with the myriad marks that fill the surface, indeed so dense are these that they seem to expand back and forth in space. However, as one's eyes begin to acclimatise, we start to see three tall standing figures almost claustrophobically filling the upright canvas. These figures, emerging from the whirl of colour, have a primitive, almost atavistic, feel to them, and thus connects the painting with another important canvas of 1956, Hostile Tribe (Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art). This sense of an independently evolving image is a central tenet of Surrealism, and it may be worth remembering that not only had Wynter been influenced by Surrealism in his earliest career, but so had his American contemporaries, and in particular Pollock.

The Robert Devereux Collection of Post-War British Art in aid of the African Arts Trust, Sale 1

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London