Modern & Post-War British Art

Modern & Post-War British Art

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 2. EDWARD WADSWORTH, A.R.A. | ABSTRACTIONS/KISSABLE.

Property From an Important Scottish Collection


Auction Closed

November 20, 12:36 PM GMT


50,000 - 70,000 GBP

Lot Details



1889 - 1949


signed and dated 1947.

tempera on board

61 by 51cm.; 24 by 20in.

The Rowley Gallery, London

Charles Whittaker

Private Collection

Their sale, Sotheby's London, 14th November 1984, lot 111

Mayor Gallery, London

Ewan Mundy Fine Art, Glasgow, where acquired by the present owner

Jonathan Black, Edward Wadsworth, Philip Wilson Publishers, London, 2005, cat. no.449, illustrated p.207 (as Private Collection).

London, Tate, Edward Wadsworth Memorial Exhibition, 2nd February - 19th March 1951, cat. no.55 (as Composition, where lent by Charles Whittaker, Esq).

We are grateful to Dr Jonathan Black for his kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present work. 

‘Whatever a picture may or may not be, its first appeal must be through the eye – as music’s appeal must be through the ear. A picture may tell a story, but first of all its form and balance (or lack of balance) must be right functionally. The result may be pleasing or disturbing. Beauty is not the aim – if it is, the result is usually prettiness. Beauty is a by-product.’ (Edward Wadsworth, quoted in Barbara Wadsworth, Edward Wadsworth A Painter’s Life, Michael Russell Publishing Ltd, Salisbury, 1989, p.35)


Wadsworth was an important and central figure to British art in the early 20th century. He was not only highly regarded in the UK, but he also maintained strong links to the key figures and trends on the continent. He was a key proponent of the Vorticist movement in 1914, along with Wyndham Lewis who considered him ‘a genius of industrial England’, and had connections to the Futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, as well as Lazlo Maholy-Nagy and Ossip Zadkine. After the war his treatment of the still life gave him a reputation on the continent as 'the first British Surrealist', where Wadsworth enjoyed close associations with continental artists, mainly through the Parisian dealer Léonce Rosenburg. He admired the work of Pierre Roy, Jean Metzinger and in particular Giorgio de Chirico, with whom he corresponded regularly. Wadsworth would later contribute to the Parisian journal Abstraction-Création and was included in influential periodicals such as Sélection. Whilst in the UK he was a founding member of the avant-garde British group Unit One and was admired by leading modernists Henry Moore, Paul Nash and Ben Nicholson, amongst others. However, although Wadsworth’s work from the 1920s was often compared to continental surrealists, he tended to distance himself from groups and skilfully forged a distinct path using his own unique pictorial vocabulary to create highly individual and distinctive works.

As Wadsworth’s career progressed, the subject of the still life became more important to him, most often with a maritime emphasis. By the mid 1940s, however, the carefully composed forms within his compositions were becoming increasingly abstract, often with a surrealist twist. Central to the impact of these works is Wadsworth’s use of tempera which he started using from the 1920s whilst painting in Italy, most likely influenced by early Italian paintings he saw during his trip. He would mix his own colours in tempera, enabling him to create starkly lit and precisely painted compositions which rivalled the work of the leading continental exponents of this style: Pierre Roy and De Chirico. Wadsworth placed particular emphasis on the isolation and aggrandisement of the object, often playing with perspective and spatial distance. His aim was not to create a ‘pretty’ image but rather to present a composition with an underlying sense of rhythm created by the careful placement and manipulation of forms. By 1947 when this work was painted he had fully mastered his mature style to create a masterpiece of balanced, streamlined forms.

Wadsworth has placed the objects within this composition at close range, using triangular forms as the planes against which the rest of the composition is anchored – such a motif had appeared in his work from the previous year and reflects the influence of Fernand Léger. Various objects are suspended from organic, bone-like structures painted in a creamy-white tempera which gives them a luminous aura when set against the deep burgundy of the background. These crisply rendered forms are imbued with a sense of weightlessness, criss-crossing the composition while objects hang from them on delicately placed strings. The whole structure appears to resemble a form of futuristic balance, but one that appears suspended in space. Wadsworth was not interested in depicting a form discernible as a known, or knowable, object; rather, his concern was to show the contrasting weights and textures of the forms, paying particular attention to the contrast between the heaviness of the angular triangles and the lightness of the soft, organic forms of the bones, string and meticulously painted fabric. As Jonathan Black states: ‘Wadsworth clearly managed to set himself apart through a combination of the particular polished surface effect achieved by tempera, the carefully judged balance of his compositions and the sharp-edged, clear-cut hyper realism with which oddly shaped objects presented from unusual angles were depicted’ (Edward Wadsworth: Form, Feeling and Calculation, The Complete Paintings and Drawings, London, 2005, p.67).