Lot 14
  • 14

Victor Pasmore, R.A.

150,000 - 250,000 GBP
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  • Victor Pasmore, R.A.
  • Children Playing on the Banks of a River
  • signed with initials
  • oil on canvas
  • 58.5 by 79.5cm.; 23 by 31¼in.
  • Executed in 1946-7.


Acquired directly from the Artist by Valentine Ellis, 4th July 1947, and thence by descent to the present owner


London, Redfern Gallery, Victor Pasmore: Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings, 27th November - 27th December 1947, cat. no.16; 
London, Arts Club, Dover Street, 6th - 24th November 1978 (details untraced); 
London, The Royal Academy of Arts,  Victor Pasmore, 13th September - 19th October 1980, cat. no.12, with Arts Council tour to Cartwright Hall, Bradford, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, Norwich, Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester, and the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle;
New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, Victor Pasmore, 16th November 1988 - 8th January 1989, with tour to Philips Collection, Washington, D.C.


Alan Bowness and Luigi Lambertini, Victor Pasmore, with a Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Constructions & Graphics 1926-1979, Thames and Hudson, London, 1980, p.12, cat. no.109, illustrated p.69.


Original canvas. The canvas is sound. There are a few frame abrasions which have resulted in minute losses along the extreme upper edge. There is a very small area of fine craquelure in the black pigment of the pram, only visible upon close inspection. In the lower right corner there are a few very tiny indentations to the canvas, with some extremely small associated losses. There are a few very small scattered spots of dirt in places, as well as a small spot of gold frame paint transfer to the upper left hand edge. Subject to the above the work is in excellent overall condition. Inspection under ultraviolet light reveals no obvious signs of restoration or retouching. The work is held within an ornate gilt wood frame. Please telephone the department on +44 207 293 6424 if you have any questions.
"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

Children Playing on the Banks of a River comes from a key period in Pasmore's career when his art moved from a measured study of the appearance of things towards a purely abstract vision. And whilst his definitive move towards abstraction comes a little later, in 1949, hints of what is to come can be seen here and in the present work's sister paintings, The Evening Star (1945-7), formerly in the collection of the art historian Sir Kenneth Clark and now at the Tate, London, The Quiet River: The Thames at Chiswick (1943-44, Tate, London) and The Sun Shining Through Mist: The Thames at Chiswick (1946-7, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne).

In these works many of the figurative elements – here the children in the matching blue dresses that run in from the left and the figures glimpsed over the brow of the bank – appear to float on, or even above, the surface of the picture. In contrast, other elements – such as the solid flat black form of the pram - lock our eyes onto that surface, negating any sense of illusory depth that other aspects of the picture create, most notably the atmospheric evening skies flecked with pink refractions of the setting sun.

As such, the painting becomes something of a (deliberate) puzzle: Pasmore draws us in to a warm afternoon, redolent with Post-Impressionist calme, luxe et volupté, as the boats skim across the water and the evening's moon begins to show in the sky. And yet he also deflects this illusionism, from the Klimt-like shimmering pattern of the grass that appears totally flat, vertical even, through to the almost Surreal black hat that seems to have lost its wearer and sits - like the pram - on its own plane, the plane of the canvas itself. It is through these elements that Pasmore, following one of the fundamental 'rules of abstraction', draws the viewer's attention to the physical nature of the work, to the picture as an object, with the 'image' being nothing more than an arrangement of colour and shape within the boundaries of the picture's edge: which of course, becomes the guiding principle of Pasmore's constructive abstracts and constructionist reliefs of the 1950s and '60s.

Children Playing on the Banks of a River, like his other great paintings of the period, has more than a nod to Seurat, whose masterpieces Bathers at Asnières (National Gallery, London) and The Bridge at Courbevoie (fig.1, Courtauld Gallery, London) Pasmore would have seen in London, although it was perhaps the Frenchman’s writing on optics that had the greater influence. And Seurat, of course, was a profound early influence on that most unequivocally abstract of British painters of the 1960s, Bridget Riley. Pasmore gives Seurat's pointillist dots more solidity, but there is still the same sense that his works of this period are about the process of seeing – the way our eyes constantly, seamlessly, shift in and out of focus to construct an image on our retina.

Children Playing on the Banks of a River was bought directly from the artist in 1947 by his friend, Valentine Ellis, with £100 of his ‘demob money’, which was a real commitment in post-war Britain. The two men had been friends since the 1930s and Ellis had asked Pasmore to be a witness at his wedding in November 1945. The painting was to hang in pride of place in Ellis's home until his death in 2001 and has remained in the family ever since. If early paintings by Pasmore of this quality very rarely come to market, to have one that has only ever had one owner represents an almost unique opportunity.