St Ives and British Modernism: The George and Ann Dannatt CollectionSt Ives and British Modernism: The George and Ann Dannatt Collection

Abstracting the Figure

During the twentieth-century figurative art and abstract art were widely seen as opposing tendencies in art. Whilst figurative art was based in the representation and observation of the external world, abstraction was more commonly associated with non-objective and non-representational work and seen as a rejection of traditional concerns. Although George and Ann Dannatt mainly acquired abstract artworks their collection also includes a group of prints and drawings in which artists used the human form as the starting point for experimentation.

In the late 1950s Roger Hilton moved away from the rhythms and colours of the natural world which had inspired his work, instead seeking of his wish to ‘reinvent figuration'. The lithographs displayed in this room focus on the female nude and reflect the artist's concerns in the last years of his life with sensual pleasure, but also ill-health and death. His approach to the female form bears analogies to the Expressionism of the artist Jankel Adler, also displayed here. Born in Poland, Adler had worked in Germany in the 1920s but left in 1933 due to the rise of Nazism, working in France, before moving to Britain in 1940. During the late 1940s Adler shared a house in London with Roberts Colquhoun and his partner Robert MacBryde, and was to be an important influence on their work, providing a direct connection to the work of Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso. Colquhoun's off-set drawing of two figures with facteted forms reflects the influence of European Cubism on his work.

In the 1950s Prunella Clough produced a series of paintings of the urban landscape, often featuring dockworkers. Although regarded as an abstractionist, her work was always rooted in figuration. Her drawing of men on a wharf displayed in this room reveals her interest in paintings that ‘say a small thing edgily.'