Lot 5
  • 5


40,000 - 60,000 GBP
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  • Mary Martin
  • Rhythm
  • signed and dated '65. on the reverse
  • Formica, wood, painted wood and stainless steel
  • 71 by 71cm.; 28 by 28in.
  • Executed 1965.


Acquired by the late owners by the 1980s


London, Tate, British Sculpture in the 60s,  February - April 1965 (probably);
Northampton, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, Women in the Arts, 1965 (probably, details untraced). 


All elements of the construction appear securely adhered. There are a small number of very minor nicks and tiny losses to the corners and extreme edges of the white backing. There are a few instances of thin lines of cracking or minor pulling apart to the painted wooden and metallic pyramidal elements. There is some possible very minor slippage to one of these elements towards the right of the construction, where there is a very slight gap in the pattern. Remnants of adhesive are visible in a few places. There are a few instances of spots of staining to the construction in places. There is some very minor unevenness to the metal in places with a few flecks of oxidisation and some tiny scratches. There is some surface dirt to the construction and to the backing board, and a few instances of detritus and surface matter. This excepting, the work appears in very good overall condition. The following addition report was compiled by Dr Susan Tebby, June 2019: Rhythm is in good condition, almost 100% in Mary Martin's original hand, and thus quite a rarity. There are some historical infills between stainless steel and wood (slight gaps caused by the wood drying out in early years) and a few minor fills carried out recently to ensure the eye is not interrupted when looking at, or into, the complexities of the half-cubes and their multiple reflections. The Formica surface is unmarked, with only a few minute nicks along some of the edges – made by Mary Martin, who cut the sheet herself with a hand-saw. The tiny marks on some of the stainless steel surfaces at their edges are the result of Mary Martin hammering the rectangles to flatten the slight natural curvature caused by their guillotining to size. The original paintwork is also good, a little faded. The back of the support board (not visible from the front) needs some attention to halt deterioration caused by drying out over time. Such conservation would be at the discretion of the owner. UV*** The work is unframed. 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

We are grateful to Dr Susan Tebby and the Estate of Mary Martin for their kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present work.

Mary Martin did not make her first abstract work until 1950 but from that date onwards, the sole focus of her work was constructed abstract reliefs, culminating in her most significant commission, Wall Construction for University of Stirling, installed in November 1969, shortly after her premature death. Along with her husband Kenneth Martin, Victor Pasmore and Anthony Hill amongst others, Mary Martin was at the vanguard of the British Constructivist movement. In 1956 Mary and Kenneth collaborated with John Weeks to construct the ninth ‘environment’ for the seminal Whitechapel Art Gallery exhibition, This is Tomorrow, with architectonic white relief panels surrounding a mobile by Kenneth. Though often seen in opposition to the Independent Group, which included Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi, it is more, perhaps, a case of intersecting interests explored through differing means. Issues of science and nature, the social role of the artist or the artist shaped by society, mass-production and the copy, the machine and the man-made are all at the heart of Martin’s constructivism. Whilst Hamilton and Paolozzi might have employed copious detritus in their art, Martin’s has a simplicity that belies the formal and social complexity in her work: ‘The end is always to achieve simplicity but the means and processes are often complex because one is not repeating a performance of something which has gone before. Each work is a fresh exploration…but sometimes it is something that has waited to be expressed for a long time.’ (Mary Martin, The End is Always to Achieve Simplicity, 1957, unpublished and dated manuscript, quoted in Mary Martin, exh. cat., Tate, London, 3rd October – 25th November 1984, p.28). Martin aimed not to reproduce nature but to replicate the systems of nature, using logic, mathematics, geometry and proportion, informed by intuition, and employing industrial ‘non-art’ material but working by hand and largely unassisted. The present work, Rhythm, created in 1964-65, signifies an important phase in Martin’s constructed reliefs. With these ‘Rhythm’ works, a cube sliced diagonally became the unit of choice, with the ‘sliced’ underside mirrored and the half cubes then arranged in a sequence that allowed both repetition and variation, a ‘rhythm’ of form. In these works, what Martin terms the ‘tilt’ was of fundamental importance in introducing shadow and colour: ‘The vitality of the tilt had some connection with the ability to move and change on the part of an element which was virtually uncommitted. A new and fifth element had come into play; namely the shadow. What interested me here was not so much the shape of the cast shadow, which is obvious, but the colour varying with the angle of the tilt so that shadow and substance played with each other’ (Mary Martin, ‘Character of the Oblique’, 1969, published in The Structurist, quoted in op. cit., p.28). Whilst later variants, such as Compound Rhythms with Blue, 1966, Arts Council Collection, include touches of colour, Rhythm is pure white, wood and mirror. This restraint imbues the work with a certain purity but also emphasises the centrality of the environment and the playfulness of the work’s relation to its surroundings. The mirrors reflect both the work and the environment, introducing layers of light and colour, and re-presenting the surroundings and even the viewer within the work itself. Profoundly interested in the relationship between art and architecture and the recipient of numerous commissions by architects, Martin sought to bring her work into the real world and the introduction of mirrors enabled such an integration. This ludic interaction of light and colour further established the primacy of movement: ‘The expressive content has been concerned with movement and change, being geometrically and mathematically based…With a maximum of movement of elements within the work, actual movement has seemed unnecessary and stillness essential.’ (Mary Martin, ‘Reflections’, 1967, quoted in op. cit., p.33). Due to time-consuming commissions, her intensive methods and early death, Martin’s body of work is small: Rhythm is one of very few reliefs of such scale and quality in private collections, and ranks amongst the best of British Constructivism, sophisticated in simplicity and playful in ever-changing light, shadow and colour.