Barbara Hepworth is represented in the Tate by only a couple of pieces, which is a pity when faced by the tidal wave of Henry Moore abstracts and drawings. There is the exquisite Ball, Plane and hole (1936) in ‘The Thirties’ room and Pelagos (1946), which I missed on this occasion. It always surprises me; the Tate policy of filling two complete rooms with the works of Moore while other, equally engaging artists receive so little attention.
The Thirties though, gives some great paintings and sculpture gallery room with its engaging theme of social and political change and uncertainty. Paul Nash’s Equivalents for the Megaliths (1935) is always one of my go to paintings. This enduring semi abstract highlights the artists own uncertainty between full abstract and traditional landscape. In this he places modern abstract articles in the landscape to represent the ancient megaliths of Stonehenge and Avebury.
Nostalgia is a feature of the display but the viewer is not certain what it is he hankers for. Julian Trevelyan’s The Potteries (c1938) a case in point. In this scene of industrialisation the humans wander around anonymously. The landscape is dominated by pottery towns. Is Trevelyan protesting about the loss of landscape, or is he protesting about loss of employment? Looked at eighty years later do we also see a simplicity of life that has gone with progress and mass communication. You be the judge.
British Modernism could not escape the influences of Europe as economic and political migration was all around. The still life, The third painting I would highlight is Ivon Hitchens’ Autumn Composition: Flowers on a Table (1932). This delightful interior scene has all the perspective detail and colour swatches that gives away its Parisian influence – Braques, Picasso, Matisse.
Ben Nicholson. There are many more paintings to savour the modernism of the Thirties but one I am drawn to which does not often get discussed is his 1932 Auberge de la Sole Dieppoise (1932). Nicholson so renowned for his constructed abstract works such as 1935 White Panel (1935), shows some of his figurative ideas in ‘Auberge…’ This flat collage image so reminiscent of Georges Braque, maybe reminds Nicholson of his and Hepworth’s meeting with the French cubist master in Dieppe in 1932. Is the reflection in the glass Barbara Hepworth we are left to wander?
There is always much to see at these large national collections but a little more time with a few less paintings always bring rewards. the Tate Britain is no exception.
All images copyright The Tate