Patrick Heron (1920-1999)
Patrick Heron (1920-1999)

Rumbold: 10 December 1968 - 5 October 1970

Patrick Heron (1920-1999)
Rumbold: 10 December 1968 - 5 October 1970
signed, inscribed and dated 'RUMBOLD:/10 DECEMBER/1968 - 5 OCT-/OBER 1970/PATRICK/HERON' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas, unframed
84 x 66 in. (213.4 x 167.6 cm.)
Painted in 1968-1970.
with Waddington Galleries, London.
Purchased by the present owner from the artist's family in July 2001.
Exhibition catalogue, Post-War to Pop Modern British Art: Abstraction, Pop and Op Art, London, Whitford Fine Art, 2008, n.p., no. 9, as 'Rumbold, 1968-1970', illustrated.
Paddington, New South Wales, Bonython Art Gallery, Patrick Heron: Recent Paintings, June - July 1973, no. 6.
Texas, The University of Texas Art Museum, Michener Galleries, Paintings by Patrick Heron 1965-1977, March - May 1978, no. 10.
London, Whitford Fine Art, Post-War to Pop Modern British Art: Abstraction, Pop and Op Art, May - June 2008, no. 9, as 'Rumbold, 1968-1970'.

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William Porter
William Porter

Lot Essay

‘The secret of good painting – of whatever age or school, I am tempted to say – lies in its adjustment of an inescapable dualism: on the one hand there is the illusion, indeed the sensation of depth; and on the other there is the physical reality of the flat picture-surface. Good painting creates an experience which contains both’

(Patrick Heron).

Painted between 1968 and 1970 Rumbold is the first from a series of paintings that Heron completed in the studio that he borrowed in Rumbold Street, West London. This vibrant, hard edged phase of Heron’s oeuvre, that he rather profanely referred to as his ‘wobbly hard edge period’, was a profound departure from the broader, more spontaneous ephemerality of his early sixties paintings in which circles and asymmetrical lozenges hovered and shimmered on the muted canvas surface.

Heron’s shift in style coincided with a serious accident while out canoeing with fellow artist Bryan Wynter in the summer of 1967. Crushed by the canoe while disembarking in a heavy squall, he broke his leg in four places. Unable to walk, it was impossible to paint the large scale works that he had become accustomed to do, so he began executing numerous small gouaches on paper. These beautiful and intense studies prompted Heron to explore colour and texture in a new way. Far from seeing these works on paper as preparatory sketches for larger oil paintings, he embraced the medium and explored the changing surface appearances allowing his creative tempo to be ‘dictated … by the nature of the wet medium itself. I like the water in the paint mixture to lead me; to suggest the scribbled drawing which gives birth to the images’ (P. Heron, quoted in exhibition catalogue, Patrick Heron, Edinburgh, Caledonian Club Theatre, 1985).

When he was once more unleashed onto the large expanses of unsullied canvas he approached his painting with a renewed vigour and intensity. Previously Heron had distanced himself from the technique of preparatory drawing, however, with this new phase he adopted a very swift sketching technique where he would spontaneously draw out, in a matter of seconds, the shapes that he would then painstakingly fill out using small Japanese brushes in order to give the large expanses of colour a texture and luminosity. Indeed he commented, ‘I have myself always believed … in the hand-stroked, hand-scribbled, hand-scrubbed application of paint: putting paint on a flat surface with a brush is just about the greatest pleasure I know’ (M. Gooding, Patrick Heron, London, 1994, p. 188).
The inspiration for this pleasurable preoccupation with the physical act of applying paint onto a ground can be found in his love of Matisse’s paintings and he was to declare that ‘a glass of champagne cannot do as much, for both body and mind, as a surface that has been painted by Henri Matisse’ (P. Heron, Modern Painters, vol. 6, no. 1, 1993). In fact he went on to say that ‘Matisse’s influence is supreme in the realm of colour: and Matisse creates his pictures, and the objects in them, in terms of colour rather than form’ (ibid.).

It is this notion of creating a painting from pure colour rather than form that was central to Heron’s work and in his paintings of the late 1960s and 1970s it reached its most vibrant and dynamic as he explored the relationship between colours in juxtaposition.

‘If I stand only eighteen inches away from a fifteen-foot canvas that is uniformly covered in a single shade of red, say, my vision being entirely monopolised by red I shall cease within a matter of seconds to be fully conscious of that red: the redness of that red will not be restored until a fragment of another colour is allowed to intrude, setting up a reaction. It is in this interaction between differing colours that our full awareness of any of them lies. So the meeting-lines between areas of colour are utterly crucial to our apprehension of the actual hue of those areas … The line changes the colour of the colours either side of it’ (P. Heron, quoted in M. Gooding, Patrick Heron, London, 1994, p. 186).

In the present work Heron juxtaposes the painstakingly applied red with the muted brown, cove-like shapes in the upper half, the emerald green, flooding in from the left and the two fiery orange orbs leaping from the lower corner and upper left edge.

The small, swirling brush strokes of vermillion shimmer on the surface of the canvas, simultaneously flooding over, under and around the organic forms, creating a dichotomy between the physical object of the painting and the illusion of space and depth through colour and texture. Indeed, the profanity of the painting’s title Rumbold only emphasises this joyous celebration of painting in its purist form.

We are very grateful to Susanna Heron for her assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

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