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    Sale 5306

    Scottish Art

    16 April 2008, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 150

    William Johnstone (1897-1981)


    Price Realised  


    William Johnstone (1897-1981)
    signed, inscribed and dated '''BATTLE''/William/Johnstone/1961' (on the reverse) and signed again and inscribed 'WILLIAM JOHNSTONE/18A MELBURY ROAD/LONDON W14' (on the stretcher)
    oil on canvas
    54 x 96 in. (137.2 x 243.8 cm.)

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    Johnstone's art runs across the widest colouristic and emotional range, and he could manipulate red-brown tones with black to create strong and unsettling emotional effects. The fundamental tonal range of many works from the decade before Battle is a powerful red combined with black and sometimes white. Opinions will differ, but some writers, including the present one, consider the 1950s the finest period of Johnstone's career because in it he did not work exclusively in the impulsive, improvisatory manner that would dominate in the last decades of his life. During the 1950s he repeated and refined many themes based on geometric forms: pyramids and spheres, cubes, cones and cylinders, and created unusually harmonious compositions with them. His term Toronto Series refers to some of these compositions in which deep reds dominate. The term 'ox blood' comes to mind to describe some of his violent, impassioned reds used in that decade. Battle appears to have been painted shortly after that time, not long after his return to Scotland. The inscribed date of 1961 would have been added in the 1970s, most probably. There is, however, a family memory that this painting was in fact painted at Potburn, the second farm he owned after his retirement from the Central School of Arts and Crafts. This would suggest a slightly later date. The artist and his family lived in a small and cramped shepherd's cottage at Potburn, surrendering the farmhouse to the shepherd, his wife and many children. The family recalled that Johnstone could only work on this painting on mild days and in the open air. This is surprising given the painting's confronting, echoing and powerfully conflicting forms, which lead so naturally to its title. This is the last of Johnstone's epic canvases we are likely to see on the market for some time.

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    with Stone Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne.


    Edinburgh, Arts Council of Great Britain, William Johnstone, February - March 1981, no. 71.