Lot 7
  • 7

Ceri Richards

70,000 - 100,000 GBP
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  • Ceri Richards
  • The Force that Drives the Water Through The Rocks Drives My Red Blood
  • signed and dated 43-44
  • oil on canvas
  • 107.5 by 89.5cm.; 42¼ by 35¼in.


Redfern Gallery, London, where acquired by Eugene and Penelope Rosenberg, 1958


London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, June – July 1960, cat. no.24, illustrated;
Wakefield, Wakefield City Art Gallery, Personal Choice 2, May – June 1961, cat. no.115;
Venice, British Pavilion,  XXXI Biennale Internazionale d’Arte, June – October 1962, cat. no.69;
London, Marlborough New London Gallery, Ceri Richards Retrospective Exhibition, June 1965, cat. no.13, illustrated;
London, Architectural Association, November – December 1965 (details untraced);
London, Whitechapel Gallery, Picture of the Month, April 1975;
Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh International Festival, Ceri Richards, August-September 1975, cat. no.15;
London, Tate, Ceri Richards, 22nd July – 6th September 1981, cat. no.40, illustrated;
Swansea, University College of Swansea, The Ceri Richards Gallery Inaugural Exhibition, 18th June – 12th July 1984, cat. no.1, illustrated;
Cardiff, National Museum & Gallery, Ceri Richards, Themes & Variations: A Select Retrospective, 27th July - 27th October 2002, un-numbered exhibition.


Mel Gooding, Ceri Richards, Cameron & Hollis, Moffat, 2002, illustrated, p.71.


Unexamined out of frame. The canvas has an old relining. There is craquelure to the composition, most apparent in the upper half and lower left hand quadrants. This excepting the work appears in good overall condition. Ultraviolet light reveals areas of flouresecene and probable retouchings to the red pigment along the upper edge, including some in line with a possible previous frame abrasion; a single spot to the face of the left hand figure; a single spot in the bottom right hand corner, and to the edge of the bottom left corner, again, most probably in line with a previous frame abrasion, with a few isolated, smaller scattered spots appearing elsewhere. Housed behind glass in a thick gilt and painted wooden frame. 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

Ceri Richards was born in the mining village of Dunvant, a few miles down the road from Dylan Thomas's ‘lovely ugly town’ of Swansea. Whilst the community into which Richards was born might have been deprived economically, it was certainly rich in culture: the people of the industrial areas had a fine appreciation for music (as evidenced in the choirs) and for literature, born from a reverence for the Bible, but expressed more through a passion for storytelling and poetry (the spoken as much the written), although painting remained a slightly suspect and middle-class occupation.

Throughout his career, which took him from the Welsh valleys to London and on to Paris, Richards tried to create a visual equivalence to poetry - a pictorial language of metaphor and allusion, consonance and dissonance, both cursive and elliptical.  In his early career he was inspired by Surrealism, itself a fusion of the literary and artistic, but the savagery of the Second World War had broken its trance, the real world had become stranger, more dislocated than the Surreal. As such, Richards turned, like many of his British contemporaries, to deeper threads, to the natural world that always returns and starts again, regardless of man’s actions upon its surface.

These 'song-lines', so clear in the empty Welsh countryside (which also drew Graham Sutherland there in the 1940s) run through the poetry of Dylan Thomas, finding most complete expression in his masterpiece Under Milk Wood (1954), a long meditation on the magical in the everyday (long-before magic realism). The present work takes its title from the second stanza of a 1933 Thomas  poem, in which landscape is more than a metaphor, actually an equivalence to human desire and emotion: 

'The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever. 

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks' 

In Richards’ painting we see two figures, a man and a woman, who both merge with the rocky landscape and seem made from it. As Mel Gooding writes 'The Figure in dynamic metamorphosis – becoming rock or plant, hidden in the elemental, emergent from chaos – was to become an essential motif in Richards’s great paintings of 1944-45, signifying a theme recurrent in his work from that time on' (Mel Gooding, Ceri Richards, Cameron & Hollis, 2002, p.65).

In fact, Mel Gooding’s analysis of the present painting achieves an almost equal poetry to the work itself: 'two phantasmogoric figures, one male, one female, in a turbulent state of metamorphic liquescence, the bright red of their blood identified with the bright blue and seething foam white of the water that flows through the stratified rock formations of turf-green coastal cliffs under a sanguine sky. This fusion of blood, water and air signifies the underlying elemental unity of all things natural, mineral, vegetable and animal; the figures are caught up in the ecstatic flow of undifferentiated energy into which sexuality itself dissolves, or out of which in another phase of the unending cycle forms and identities will be individuated.’(op.cit. p. 69)

This blurring of the lines, between the animate and the inanimate, the real and the magical is pure Thomas, whose work is surely a revelation to any painter searching for a language of deep psychological presence. It is not clear when Richards first encountered his work, although it was undoubtedly sometime in the 1930s: however, the seeds for the present work can be dated to 1943, when Richards was commissioned by the maverick publisher Tambimuttu to design a cover for the journal Poetry London. Richards' designs were never used, with publication  disrupted by war, although in 1947, the journal did appear, with a cover by Henry Moore. Inside there was a double-sided lithograph by Richards entitled The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower, with Thomas’ text in the Artist's own distinctive, cursive handwriting. The commission had clearly encouraged him to return to Thomas for inspiration, something he would continue to do for the next two decades. In his work, Richards clearly found a rich metonymy for his own poetic ambitions.