Lot 17
  • 17

Marlow Moss

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
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  • Marlow Moss
  • Composition in White, Black and Yellow
  • signed and dated .1953. on the frame
  • oil on canvas, in the Artist's painted frame
  • 45 by 30cm.; 17¾ by 12in.


Private Collection
Annely Juda Fine Art, London
Austin/Desmond Fine Art, London
The Mayor Gallery, London, where acquired by the present owner


Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Marlow Moss, 30th March - 30th April 1962, cat. no.32;
Zeeland, Middelburg Town Hall, Marlow Moss, April 1972 (details untraced);
Zurich, Gimpel & Hanover Galerie, Marlow Moss, Bilder, Konstrucktionen, Zeichnungen, 1st December 1973 - 19th January 1974, cat. no.27, illustrated, with tour to Gimpel Fils, London;
London, Austin/Desmond Fine Art, Summer Exhibition of Modern British, International and Contemporary Art, 2008, cat. no.29.


Unexamined out of frame. Original canvas. There is a tiny fleck of very slight loss to what appears to be an old spot of retouching to the extreme upper edge in the upper left corner, at the point at which the canvas folds over the stretcher bar. There appears a further, discoloured spot of old retouching to the top right corner, again, at the point at which the canvas folds over the stretcher bar. This excepting the work appears in very good overall condition. There are some very slight cracks appearing to the extreme corners and edges of the painted wooden frame. The canvas and the Artist's frame have been adhered using what appears to be a putty, with a few minor cracks and very slight losses appearing upon close inspection to these areas, with a few further, old handling marks visible to the frame. Ultraviolet light reveals a few minor traces of fluorescence and probable retouchings to the extreme edges, perhaps in line with some old frame abrasions, with a further spot appearing to the immediate right hand side of the top right yellow block, possibly in keeping with the nature of the Artist's techniques. These have all been very sensitively executed. There are further traces visible to the painted wooden frame, again, all sensitively executed. Housed behind glass in a white wooden frame, float-mounted against a white wooden backing. Unexamined out of frame. Please contact the department on +44 (0) 207 293 6424 if you have any questions regarding the present work.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Marjorie 'Marlow' Moss is still one of the 'forgotten' British artists of the early 20thcentury. And yet she, perhaps more than anyone else, was not only a pioneering artist in her own right, but also fully engaged in the European avant-garde. In the late 1920s she had moved to Paris to apprentice herself to Leger, although once she encountered her first Mondrian, in around 1928, even Leger’s Purism seemed not rigorous enough. Mondrian was to be a lifelong influence, although Moss’s work – whilst superficially similar, is also crucially different. Mondrian’s compositons – as evidenced by their subtle alterations – are more intuitive, whereas Moss uses a more mathematical base. Moss, too, has a genuine claim to have influenced ‘the Master’ in return: her discovery of the double line in 1931 predating Mondrian’s use of the motif by a year.

Moss never wavered from the strictures of Neo-Plasticism, even as Europe descended into chaos in the 1930s, forcing her to leave France, eventually arriving in the remote fishing village of Lamorna, at the farthest tip of Cornwall, where she continued her work in what amounted to little more than a converted shed. On arrival, she wrote to Ben Nicholson, working up the road at St Ives and one of the few artists to have also been in close contact with the Parisian avant-garde of the 30s. On receiving no reply (twice) Moss continued to work in splendid isolation, producing a body of work unlike anything else being made in Britain at the time.

One of the reasons why Moss is so little known is that so few of her works survive: almost all her pre-War work was lost when the house in Normandy she had moved it to for safe-keeping was shelled in 1944.  Fewer still appear on the open market and it is significant to see the present work so soon after White, Red and Black  from the Branco Weiss collection (sold in these rooms 11th July 2013). Both works were shown in the now legendary (amongst Moss aficionados) Gimpel Hanover Gallery exhibition in Zurich in 1973, where Weiss, one of the foremost Swiss collectors of Neo-Plasticism bought White, Red and Black, and which remains Moss’s most significant retrospective, featuring 30 paintings and 9 sculptures.

The exhibition currently at Tate Britain is the final stop on a national tour that has travelled from Tate St Ives to Leeds to the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings, although, as Charles Darwent has ruefully noted, not one of these shows has merited a review in a national newspaper (Charles Darwent, ‘Marlow Moss – Forgotten Art Maverick, The Guardian, 25 August 2014). Here, in rooms that not so long ago housed the Tate’s Mondrians, as well as works by her colleagues from the Abstraction-Création group (Van Doesberg, Helion, Vantongerloo), the purity and rigour of Moss's work is clear to see.

One of the few photographs of Moss that survives shows her standing by a traditional way-post in Cornwall: Lands End is 7½ miles away, the artist colony of Newlyn 3 miles, Lamorna a mile off. Her hair is short and styled like a man's; she wears a white cravat, hunting jacket and jodhpurs. It's as if she has stepped straight out of a Weimar-era Berlin cabaret. It's a quite startling – and consequently beautiful ­– ­image – of a truly original person, a trail-blazing woman artist and gay pioneer, someone whose art and life suffered no compromise.