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Woman by Ventilator

Clough, P.
Woman by Ventilator
signed 'Clough' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
34 3/8 x 25 in. (87.5 x 63.5 cm.)
Painted in 1954.
A gift from the artist to Peter Adam, and by descent.
F. Spalding, Prunella Clough: Regions Unmapped, Farnham, 2012, pp. 106, 108, pl. 65.
G. Hastings, exhibition catalogue, Visions & Recollections: Prunella Clough & Keith Vaughan, London, Menier Gallery, 2014, p. 70, no. 19, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Prunella Clough: Unconsidered Wastelands, London, Osborne Samuel, 2015, p. 34, exhibition not numbered, illustrated.
London, Warwick Arts Trust, Prunella Clough: New Paintings 1979-1982, April - May 1982, no. 8.
London, Annely Juda, catalogue not traced.
London, Menier Gallery, Visions & Recollections: Prunella Clough & Keith Vaughan, April - May 2014, no. 19.
London, Osborne Samuel, Prunella Clough: Unconsidered Wastelands, April - May 2015, exhibition not numbered.

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Pippa Jacomb
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Lot Essay

Prunella Clough had a passion for the environment, not for grand cities or romantic views, but for residual urban and industrial settings. The acquisition of a car gained her mobility. Not many artists went in search, as she did, for the gasworks at Fulham, coke yards at Woolwich, cooling towers at Canning Town, Battersea Power Station and a chemical works at Reading, to name just a few of her subjects. I subtitled my monograph on Prunella Clough ‘Regions Unmapped’, partly because of her habit at looking at places which others ignored. During the period 1950 to 1953, when London’s docklands were still active, few artists followed her to Wapping, Rotherhithe, and Southwark, where she became fascinated with the shapes and activities of lorries and their drivers, in a pre-container age.

Her lorry pictures featured significantly in her 1953 solo exhibition at the Leicester Galleries. But another important step taken at this time was her decision to work inside factories and workshops. She shared this desire with her friend, the sculptor, Ghisha Koenig. After marrying a doctor who set up a group medical practice on an industrial estate in Kent, Koenig found herself surrounded by local factories. After gaining permission to do so, she and Clough went drawing in a bakery and a paper mill. Another place in which they drew together was the Peak Frean biscuit factory in Bermondsey, then owned by the Carr family, which makes it almost certain that David Carr, a close friend of Clough and member of this family, gained them access. Its modern plant had replaced 40,000 square feet of factory space destroyed by bombing during the war. It was also the kind of factory where everyone who worked there had to become quickly accustomed to deafening noise.

Woman in Biscuit Factory II (lot 197) and Woman by Ventilator (the present lot) emerge from her studies of the Peak Frean factory. She filled a whole sheet of paper with drawings of the women’s white-net peaked caps. It also introduced, she thought, a note of passivity. In both paintings there is a neat, compact, almost tender contract between figure and setting. In the first painting, the woman is holding at the ready an implement with which she can whip out of line a misshapen biscuit. In the second picture the figure is only seen in relation to the extractor or ventilator, and the fact we receive no hint as to what she is doing gives it a more interior feel. There is empathy here, but not sentimentality. Equally every detail in Printer Checking Proofs (lot 192) is dove-tailed into the next, the picture having the same sense of strength and purpose as is expressed by the man’s arm, as he holds out a sheet of paper to check the proofs.

Two other works witness to Clough’s playfulness. Untitled (Industrial Wires) (lot 193), with its seeming haphazard path moving diagonally across the canvas, is created by flicking industrial wire, or the balled chain on the end of a bathroom plug, into paint and then onto the canvas, to create a whisper of imprinted marks. The final work by Clough from the Collection of the late Peter Adam is a composite watercolour, called Memories of Peter Adam’s House (lot 191). Several sheets have been mounted into one frame, each one signalling a mnemonic in sign language, as to what could once be seen in each room or outside its window.

We are very grateful to Frances Spalding, CBE, FRSL, Hon. FRCA., for preparing this catalogue entry.

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