ABSTRACT : JULY 1952 is one of a small number of paintings that Heron produced in July and August 1952 that betray the impact on him of the work of Nicolas de Staël’s painting. Accompanied by William Scott and Peter Lanyon, he had visited the survey of de Staël’s painting held at the Matthiesen Gallery in London between January and March 1952. Like many British artists, he was captivated by de Staël’s paintings and remembered later how the three of them spent at least an hour in the gallery ‘in dead silence’ (A. Wilson, in conversation with Patrick Heron, 2 June 1995). Later in June 1952, while visiting Paris with Scott, Heron not only saw more work by de Staël at the Galerie Jacques Dubourg but also met the artist along with his American dealer Theodore Schempp.
De Staël’s painting offered a way to balance abstract and figurative imperatives using blocks of paint thickly applied by a palette knife; Heron at that time approached this aim by using a linear drawing to act as an armature for, often comparatively thinly painted, abstract colour shapes. Returning from Paris, Heron dispensed with drawing, relying instead on the material presence of the colour blocks to both create an illusion of space and at the same time evoke still-life or landscape motifs. Writing about de Staël’s painting in 1956, Heron proposed that the revolutionary nature of his painting was ‘to reintroduce the figurative function: figuration in abstraction’ (P. Heron, ‘London’, Arts (NY), May 1956, p. 13). The same year, Heron exhibited his first tachiste abstract paintings at the Redfern Gallery, including another of his 1952 paintings as a way to demonstrate his belief that ‘a brand new figuration will emerge… out of our present non-figurative thought and practice’ (P. Heron, 'Untitled statement', Statements a review of British abstract art in 1956, ICA, London, January - February 1957) – these ‘garden’ paintings from 1956 laid the ground for his exploration of abstraction over the rest of his life.
We are very grateful to Andrew Wilson for assisting in the preparation of this catalogue entry. The Patrick Heron Trust is in the process of researching the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work and would like to hear from owners of any works by Patrick Heron, so that these can be included in this comprehensive catalogue. Please write to The Patrick Heron Trust, c/o Christie's Modern British Art Department, 8 King Street, London, SW1Y 6QT, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.