A gift from the artist to the present owners’ mother on the occasion of her wedding and by descent
Bristol, City Art Gallery, Contemporary Painting, February – March 1950, no.56
Still-life against the Sea: 1949 most likely portrays the harbour of St Ives where Heron lived as a child. As in other paintings of this period, such as The Boats and the Iron Ladder:1947 (shown at the artist’s first one-man exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in 1947), the influence of the great modern French artists is evident. In the late 1940s and early 1950s Heron spent time in Europe visiting Paris, Provence and Italy where he was influenced in particular by the works of Matisse and Braque finding their works exciting and liberating.
In 1946 Heron visited the post-war Georges Braque exhibition at Tate. The exhibition deeply impressed him and he wrote a lengthy article on the artist for New English Weekly. In 1949, the year the present work was painted, Heron visited Braque in his Paris studio and presented him with the article. Heron drew inspiration from Braque’s works, taking the abstract separation of descriptive line; which can be seen in the present work in the blue outline of the figure and the fluid white lines of the carpet and picture frame. Indeed, the blue outline of the figure is reminiscent of the black outlining of Braque’s Bather (1925) which can be found in the collection of Tate. In Still-life against the Sea: 1949 there are echoes of Braque’s Cubism in the ambiguous shapes of the table and boats: Heron has broken down the elements of this interior scene into distinct areas or planes, such as the red curtain, emphasising the two-dimensional flatness of the canvas.
In 1943, Heron saw Matisse’s The Red Studio at the Redfern Gallery and was inspired by the colour and compositional structure of the painting. This inspiration can be seen in the present work: the open window, a motif often employed in Matisse’s interior paintings, allowing him to link the internal and external space into a composition structured by patterns and planes of colour. Matisse often included the subject of a young woman in his interior scenes, as Heron has also done here; the woman plays an important role, drawing the viewer into the centre of the composition, framed by the outline of the window and the curve of the curtain. The silvery blues, greys and whites create an atmosphere of light contrasting with the radiant warmth of the red curtain and what appears to be a yellow flower.
In the present work, similar to others of the period, we see many of the specific elements which would come to characterise Heron's later mature abstract style of the mid 1950s to the early 1960s. It is worth comparing with Bedroom by the Sea: Mousehole: 1949, also exhibited in 1950 at Bristol City Art Gallery, which appears to be the same view; and Round Table against the Sea: 1949 (see M. Gooding, Patrick Heron,London, 1994, p. 66, illustrated).
Still-life against the Sea: 1949 was given to the present owner's mother as a late wedding present as she was married in July 1948. One of the last works available by Donaldson from the early 1960s (from the year of his first one-man show at the Rowan Gallery) and demonstrating his mastery of sensuous, rhythmic, cine-film style popular images of “pin-up” girls also seen in the Tate’s similar work, Take Five, 1962.