Lot 4
  • 4

ADRIAN HEATH | Painting - Blue with Red

30,000 - 50,000 GBP
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  • Adrian Heath
  • Painting - Blue with Red
  • signed; also signed with initials, dated '57 and inscribed on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 60 by 40cm.; 23½ by 15¾in.


The Estate of the Artist
Jonathan Clark & Co., London, where acquired by the late owners, 2005


London, Jonathan Clark & Co., Adrian Heath 1920-1992, 1950's Paintings from the Artist's Estate, 2005, cat. no.26, illustrated.


Unexamined out of frame. The canvas appears original. There are possible faint stretcher bar marks towards the edges, most visible towards the upper edge. There is a very thin horizontal line of cracking to the white pigment in the lower right quadrant, only visible upon very close inspection. There is one isolated area of extremely thin lines of craquelure to the thicker blue pigment in the upper left quadrant. There are a few extremely minor instances of studio detritus in the paint surface, only visible upon close inspection, and some possible light surface dust. This excepting, the work appears in excellent overall condition. Inspection under ultraviolet light reveals no obvious signs of fluorescence or retouching. The work is floated and held behind glass in a painted wooden frame. Please telephone 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

Adrian Heath’s Painting - Blue with Red was one of Pat and Penny Allen’s later acquisitions, bought without hesitation at the 2005 exhibition of works from the artist’s estate held at Jonathan Clark & Co. in London. Given their interest in the British Constructionist movement of the 1950s and '60s, especially the work of Kenneth and Mary Martin and Victor Pasmore, one imagines this was a painting they felt they had missed at the time and were more than happy to make amends. The gregarious Heath would have certainly been someone they had known, as he – like them – was a fixture in the London art world, an inspirational teacher and educationalist and (importantly) a convener of public support for contemporary British art at a time when the commercial side was still struggling to catch up after the War. Heath was an influential figure in the Constructive art movement – as both a maker of some of its most significant early objects but also as the organiser, in his own studio, of ground-breaking early exhibitions at the start of the 1950s. He was also a painter with a close eye on the European scene and was unique amongst his contemporaries (and arguably amongst most British collectors) in owning works by Nicolas de Stael and Serge Poliakoff. It was the surfaces of de Stael’s works – with their thick paint, applied in broken impasto with a knife – that were to influence a change in direction for Heath in the mid-1950s, as the refinement of his early geometric work gives way to a more physical form of painting, as can be clearly seen here in Painting - Blue with Red

There are three distinct but interwoven elements to the work: the first are the loosely-geometric shapes that span the centre of the canvas, all different but which in combination give a sense of a single form rotating and transforming whilst it does so. This horizontal movement is then given counter-balance by the angular black forms that have a subtle vertical thrust and which anchor the composition in the top right and bottom left corners. This is Heath at his best, cleverly combining a sense of stasis and movement, creating opposing forces described by essentially the same forms, all through placement and colour. Uniquely for a Constructive artist, much of Heath’s painting (and he was a primarily a painter) was worked out by eye, as the work was in progress – rather than using formulas and patterns to give structure. 

The third element he introduces is the way the picture plane seems to open up to reveal a layer beneath. This is most clearly expressed in the jagged red lines, that appear as fissures in the surface, revealing a magma layer beneath – but the contrast between the heat of this red and the cool of the blue and black then brings the nature of the red, orange and yellow shapes into question too: are they above or beneath? And so, by implication, do the white and soft pink shapes sit in-between? Suddenly this seemingly flat arrangement of shapes and heavy, physical paint on a canvas pulls our senses into three-dimensions. Heath further enhances this effect in a painterly way, through thinning the areas of blue and brushing it on lightly, creating an ethereal space, full of air, which again appears to sit on a different plane to the areas of impasto applied with a palette knife.  

 Painting - Blue with Red, then, is exactly the sort of work one might wait 50 years to acquire – a painting with an immediate sensual quality that over time reveals itself to be full of subtle nuances.