Artists

Early Modernism - Unit One - 7 & 5 Society

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Provenance

Miriam Gabo

Private Collection, USA

Exhibitions

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Constructivism: The Art of Naum Gabo & Antoine Pevsner, 10 February–25 April 1948, cat no.369

Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Naum Gabo, 23 April–8 June 1965, cat no.13, touring to:
Mannheim, Kunsthalle, 23 June–8 August 1965
Duisburg, Wilherlm-Lehmbruck Museum, 21 August–3 October 1965, cat no.37, illus colour
Zurich, Kunsthaus, 30 October–1 December 1965, cat no.37, illus b/w
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, January– February 1966

London, Tate Gallery, Naum Gabo, Constructions, Paintings and Drawings, Arts Council, 15 March–15 April 1966, cat no.45
Buffalo, New York, Albright-Knox Gallery, Naum Gabo, 2 March–14 April 1968, cat no.41, p15

Literature

Herbert Read and Leslie Martin, Gabo, Lund Humphries, London, 1957, p117, illus colour, dated 1940

Description

Naum Gabo first came to Britain in 1936. At the outbreak of war three years later, he moved to the relative safety of St Ives, Cornwall and he remained living there until 1946. Nocturne, painted in 1943, is a classic example of Russian Constructivism, but which has been influenced by Gabo’s first-hand experience of British art and culture. Here the image is of two forms that appear to oscillate in a spiral motion around a central axis. This spiral motif was prevalent in much of Gabo’s sculpture from the late 1930s to early 1940s and can be seen in other Constructivist art, see for example Aleksandr Rodchenko’s Non-Objective Painting No.80 (Black on Black), 1918 (MOMA, New York). The two semi-circular forms could also be interpreted as the interior space of a shell. After Gabo arrived in St Ives, he and his wife Miriam would regularly collect seashells from the beaches. However, this interest in shell forms pre-dates their living at the coast - in 1936 they had acquired the classic scientific work, On Growth and Form by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson. This book plotted the growth of organic forms using a mathematical model. Marrying the mysteries of biology to the laws of physics, it was filled with exquisite line drawings and graphs. Its themes resonated with Gabo’s own interests and its aesthetic is mirrored in Gabo’s work. In the summer of 1941, Gabo became interested in mobile light patterns. By suspending reflective materials in his studio, he cast patterns onto the walls, which he could then study. He borrowed a camera to record them and in the resulting photographs, fine white lines spiral and loop in apparent motion against a dark background. Nocturne, painted in 1943, may be partly inspired by these experiments. Photographs documenting Gabo’s sculptures might also be a source – the painting is in fact painted on the back of a photograph. Gabo’s paintings from the 1940s often use a single colour, such as bright red, yellow or green. Here the dark viridian green creates the illusion of deep pictorial space, as one might experience looking into the void of the night sky.