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John Minton ModBrit Lot 8
John Minton (1917-1957)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more THE PROPERTY OF THE LATE PROFESSOR JOHN NORRIS WOODA distinguished natural history illustrator, Professor John Norris Wood (1930-2015) founded the Natural History, Illustration and Ecological Studies course at the Royal College of Art in 1971, appointed by Rector Robin Darwin. The first of its kind, this new wing of the Illustration Department reflected the awe and fascination John felt for the natural world, which he duly passed on to his students, many of whom are now leading exponents in this field. His own training was at Goldsmiths’ College under Betty Swanwick and Adrian Ryan, and then at the R.C.A. under Edward Bawden and John Minton; four hugely influential figures in John’s life, who also became his great friends. John had a marvellous gift for friendship and was fiercely loyal; his love and admiration for these remarkable artists was lifelong. Of all Minton’s 'night' paintings, Jamaican Village is unusual because of its serenity. This may be why, after exhibiting it at the R.A., he gave it to John, whose determination to retain it was no less than the inconvenience it caused those who were obliged to give it houseroom. Unlike the butterflies, moths and adored fleets of reptiles and amphibians (including a rather 'unshakeable' monitor lizard with an unnerving eye) that John kept in various locations around his house and garden, Jamaican Village was reluctantly fostered out to friends before he took ownership of a large outbuilding that contained it for a further 45 years. What he loved, he loved enduringly well. 'My lizards love the garden,' he wrote. 'They’re incredibly detailed; little hands and tiny coloured eyes, covered with minute scales – more delicate than the finest Victorian etchings.' John’s own illustrations, prints and drawings are delicate, sophisticated and yet uncomplicated, all factors that gained him extensive work with the London Zoo, the Natural History Museum and countless commissions from an array of publishers - his series of children’s books called Nature Hide and Seek has sold around two million copies. Ten years after Minton’s drink-fuelled suicide of 1957, John made one attempt to sell Jamaican Village in order to fund a nature reserve. He placed an advertisement in The Times and Adrian Ryan, himself an intimate friend of Minton’s, drafted a response letter to the first applicant, who was Brian Sewell, then a private dealer, but later the art critic of the Evening Standard: 'You have a notice in today’s Times about a large Minton landscape. It is not the kind of thing in which I deal, but I have two Mintons among my private bits and pieces and would quite like more… Where may it be seen and what price have you in mind?' In two subsequent letters, Sewell referred to Jamaican Village as 'splendid' and said he would 'very much like to have it' but they could not agree a price. There were other respondents, but no sale was forthcoming and the picture never left John’s possession.Jamaican Village had been painted at the height of Minton’s artistic celebrity at 37 Hamilton Terrace, London NW8, a house spanning four windows across. Its studio facing due west, it was thus informed by the setting sun pouring in through the large sash windows. Minton said: 'I’ve discovered that one can paint anything as long as it’s BIG. It gives a subject an importance that little paintings don’t have.' Remarkably, given in friendship to John Norris Wood, the canvas has been screened from public gaze for 65 years until now, shortly before the anniversaries of the artist’s birth and death. During his life, John Minton was largely up or he was down, but the wistful serenity of the painting and its unusual commitment to twilight – of which there is little near the equator in Jamaican Village - is an instance of the artist manifesting a rare personal equilibrium.Julian Machin, October 2016
John Minton (1917-1957)

Jamaican Village

Details
John Minton (1917-1957)
Jamaican Village
signed and dated 'John Minton 1951' (lower right), signed again and inscribed 'MINTON/John/37 HAMILTON/LONDON/JAMAICAN VILL.../No. 1.' (on a fragment of the artist's label attached to the stretcher)
oil on canvas
60 x 142½ in. (152.4 x 362 cm.)
Provenance
A gift from the artist to the present owner's father, Professor John Norris Wood, and by descent.
Literature
F. Spalding, Dance Til the Stars Come Down: Biography of John Minton, London, 1991, p. 156.
Exhibited
London, Royal Academy, 1951, no. 398.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
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Lot Essay

Jamaican Village has been requested for inclusion in the John Minton Centenary exhibition to be held at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, July - October 2017, curated by Simon Martin and Frances Spalding.


Opportunities to travel brought John Minton a fresh repertoire of subjects and enriched his palette. This is especially true of his extended visit to Jamaica in 1950, which lasted from September through to December. In both its landscape and villages he found a set of sharp colours – acid lemon yellows, magentas and viridians – that reminded him of coloured inks. They make sonorous the fertile body of work which emerged from this trip.

His watercolours of Jamaica formed a solo exhibition at London’s Lefevre Gallery in September 1951. Two months later Vogue published an article by Minton on Jamaica and dedicated an entire page to illustrations of his recent work. Jamaican material also appeared in the decoration he did, with help from others, for the Festival of Britain’s Dome of Discovery. Meanwhile, a major oil Jamaican Landscape (present whereabouts unknown) by Minton was included in the Arts Council exhibition 60 paintings for ‘51. The invitation to take part in this exhibition had committed every artist to paint a canvas that was at least 4 x 5 foot in size. Even larger, however, is Minton’s Jamaican Village [the present work], into which he poured a great deal of what he had learned about Jamaica during his recent visit.

Interestingly, this painting connects with another oil, Street Corner, Jamaica, also painted in 1951 and now in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven. Here we find the central motif of Jamaican Village – the artificially-lit bar with young men loitering outside – repeated, but with many differences in the posing and arrangement of the figures.

The main difference between these two pictures, therefore, remains that of scale, and the extended narrative this permits in the larger painting. The mural-like size of Jamaican Village makes it possible that Minton had intended it as a wall decoration: for a bar or club, such as the Gargoyle where, for a period, a mural by him hung in the dining-room; or for the Colony Room where his murals in gouache on paper of Jamaican subjects temporarily ornamented its walls. The fact that he decided to send this large oil of a Jamaican scene to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1951, where it was accepted and exhibited, also suggests that he regarded it as a significant work. And with hindsight, it is possible to view it as a bid to reaffirm his status in 1951 as one of the most notable artists of the day.

Towards the end of his short life, when asked what had been the greatest difficulty he had encountered as an artist, John Minton replied: ‘Instant recognition at an early age.’ Almost certainly he was referring to the success he enjoyed in the late 1940s as a commercial artist, owing to his ability to dash out designs at speed and with imaginative brio. The stream of commissions he received, for book or magazine illustrations, poster designs or company brochures, left him with very little time to experiment as a painter. His friend the bookseller Martyn Goff recalled him saying that he felt he was not being allowed to develop, and therefore was in danger of being left behind while exciting things happened elsewhere.

The decision, therefore, to spend time in Jamaica, removed him from small tasks. Travel was also a way of refreshing his eye and mind. In July 1950 he admitted in the World Review that he favoured ‘places where there is a strong individual flavour of climate and living’; and although he subsequently went on holiday to France, he had, back in May, already booked tickets for himself and his companion Ricky Stride, for a trip to Jamaica in the autumn. ‘We leave England’, he told Martyn Goff, ‘on September 9th by a banana boat for the West Indies for the winter at least; perhaps, he said, with a faraway look, Forever. I shall totter like a decaying bastion of English culture, right out of Somerset Maugham, rum-soaked and crumpled from bar to bar trying to remember What It Was All About.’

Minton and Stride docked at Kingston, then spent their first month at a nearby tourist resort before crossing the island to stay with Captain Peter Blagrove and his wife Alice, owners of spice plantations, whom they had met on the journey out. Minton also travelled on alone to Ocho Rios to see Paul (‘Odo’) Cross and his partner Angus Wilson. It is clear that everywhere he went he was sharply alert to what he saw and experienced. The island’s strange beauty was set against a background of racial and political conflict. This dichotomy played out in various ways, between travel-brochure romanticism and pleasure beaches and a watchfulness peculiar to the tropics, between outward colonial elegance and the dusky faces lurking inside doorways, emitting a sudden low laugh or flash of teeth. Minton’s article on Jamaica for Vogue (November 1951), suggests that he may have found in it an echo of his own conflicted personality; ‘for the island,’ he concludes, ‘like everywhere else, faces the problem of its equilibrium in a mad world’.

In Jamaican Village we find the wooden houses, with their scalloped decoration, which he mentions in his Vogue article, along with much else that caught his attention. This haunting night-scene is full of contrasts, spatial and colouristic, each section forming a narrative episode in the overall visual drama which hints, in Minton’s own words, at ‘a disquiet that is potent and nameless’. What comes through, above all, is the affection Minton feels for his subject: for Jamaica and its people, and for a way of life, here edgily construed in a way that called to his own sympathies and continues to call to viewers today.

We are very grateful to Professor Frances Spalding for preparing this catalogue entry.

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