Victor Pasmore (1908 – 1998)
Etching and Aquatint
Signed and Dated (bottom right), numbered 34/35 (bottom left) in Pencil
Sensory World, 1996 by Victor Pasmore was purchased by Artemisia Fine Arts and Antiques on 24th February 2018 from Obelisk Auctioneers and Valuers. In 2014 the same print was sold at a London auction to an anonymous bidder but, this is likely when the work came to Malta. The exact provenance before 2014 remains unknown however, it is known that the work was produced in Rome where Pasmore printed most of his work. We can also confirm that Pasmore was residing in his Maltese home in Gudja when the print was produced.
Report Summary: Sensory World, 1996 is an etching with aquatint printed in colour by Victor Pasmore (1908-1998), a leading protagonist of abstract art in Britain (fig. 1). The etching, which is signed and dated, is a key work in the study of Pasmore’s late artistic development, characterised by his use of bright colours. The artist settled on the Maltese islands in 1966 when he finished his career as an art educator, he lived in Gudja till his death in 1998. Pasmore’s teaching practice and his prolific oeuvre served as a source of inspiration to many of his contemporaries both in Britain and the Maltese Islands.
Sensory World, 1996 is a typical etching and aquatint which forms part of Victor Pasmore’s late oeuvre, marked by its simplicity in design and pure abstraction (fig. 1). There are a number of notable contrasts which appear after close analysis of Sensory World, 1996. The luminous yellow hue, for example, is contrasted by the purity of the stark white background and the bold placement of black lines. The solid black line is juxtaposed by a singular thin uneven, yet continuous line, which is further contrasted by the lone small black circle on the left-hand side. Sensory World, 1996 can be considered as the embodiment of Pasmore’s metamorphic vision which has been described as ‘a marvellous exploration of freedom versus constraint, lightness versus weight.’ The energetic line which trails downwards is weighed down by the heavy black forms and the bright yellow background which escapes the border of the work. The work is signed and dated in pencil, with Pasmore’s typical ‘VP’ monogram in the lower right-hand corner. On the left-hand corner it is numbered 34 out of a series of 35 prints.
The pure abstraction which characterised Pasmore’s work for over 40 years, and is prevalent in Sensory World, 1996, was developed after his conversation with a more naturalistic form of representation. It is also important to note that although Pasmore was an art educator he received very little formal art education himself. He was forced to start working, and abandon his academic responsibilities at a young age due to the premature death of his father. With that being said, his early source of inspiration was from the British artist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) who he first came into contact with at the Tate Britain during the early 20s. He had a great admiration of Turner’s work and believed his work ‘asserted the independent nature of painting’ long before the artists of the late 19th century. Pasmore sought, in his own art, to emulate Turner’s artistic philosophy, who he venerated above all others. He was also influenced by French Impressionists and Post-Impressionist painters. In fact, his early work is characterised by its synthesis of Turner’s freedom of expression and inventiveness with the modern impressionistic representation of everyday scenes and figures.
His experimentation with abstraction began as early as 1930s as a young artist however, by his own admission he felt that he had not matured enough as an artist to continue thus, he reverted back to a form of realism. It was during the late 1940s and early 50s where Pasmore felt the confidence to seriously pursue a fully abstract form and it is from here that he was to establish himself as one of Britain’s leading abstract artists. In 1951 Pasmore read the book by Charles Biederman (1906 – 2004) titled Art as the Evolution of Visual Knowledge, which influenced Pasmore to develop a purely objective form of abstract art which does not rely on the figurative. Then, in 1966 the British artist settled in Malta after retiring from his career as an art educator in England.
Thus, it is with Pasmore’s personal artistic development in mind that we can begin to analyse Sensory World. Vibrant colours, such as the bold stroke of yellow which dominates Victor Pasmore’s Sensory World, 1996, are synonymous with his period here on the Maltese islands. Several critics and art writers note that his time here on the island likely affected the colours he chose in his work. The vibrant blues, yellows and greens which now filled his canvasses and prints are often attributed to the Mediterranean climate which Pasmore came into contact with here in Malta. With specific reference to his prints the authors of his catalogue raisonné in 1980 say:
‘Many of his recent compositions with their luminous tones and well-constructed design seem to project a highly personal view of Mediterranean Civilization. The colours of Malta (where the artist has lived these past twelve years), its stones and walls and blue sea, seem to re-emerge in a new form as correspondences in many of these large prints.’
This opinion is not universal however, Alistar Grieve points out that Pasmore famously denied that his work was affected by his new surroundings. Additionally, according to his close friend and collaborator architect Richard England (1937 – ), Pasmore told him that ‘I consciously avoid being influenced by visual optical scenery.’ Although he later admitted to England that he was indeed influenced by local architecture and the prehistoric temples to create his Peterlee monument. He repeats himself in another quote where he says:
‘What perhaps is relevant to my new paintings in Malta is that the close and constant proximity of the ancient, mythological and Neolithic past has reinforced my orientation from the physics of art to its biological and psychological content.’
We find echoes of this sentiment recorded in a 1995 interview with the artist who emphasises his admiration for the history on the islands. Pasmore said:
‘Why I like [Malta] is that it has got this tremendous history, going right back to Neolithic times. It has a great history, Arab, Roman, Greek, Italian, Baroque – Valletta is a Baroque city – and British. And all this tremendous history is there in a small space.’
Whatever the reasoning, it is undeniable that the work produced and designed here in Malta is represented by these bold and striking colours like the yellow from Sensory World, 1996.
Pasmore lived in the sleepy town of Gudja in a home known as Dar Gamri, where he was to live till his death in 1998 (fig. 2). His home in Gudja was purposefully chosen for its proximity to the Malta International Airport, just a few kilometres away which allowed Pasmore to travel with more ease. He still had commitments to the Marlborough Gallery in London; where Pasmore held a lifetime representation. He also regularly travelled to Rome in order to supervise the printing of his work. The majority of Pasmore’s prints were produced by the 2RC Edizioni Stamperia D’Arte, studio of Valter (1938 – ) and Eleonora Rossi (1937 – ) (fig. 3). In fact, it is during his time in Malta where most of his prints were produced. The 2RC studio was formed for the sole purpose of developing new graphic techniques which allowed contemporary artists the freedom to explore printmaking as an artistic technique. He struck up a relationship with the Rossi’s in 1969 when they were commissioned to produce a portfolio of prints for a number of artists, including Pasmore, by UNESCO. He continued to work closely with the Italian couple till his death.
Sensory World, 1996 combines the etching and aquatint technique into one work of art. The combination of varying techniques represents Pasmore’s belief in the synthesis of all the arts which was reflected in his choice to produce prints. His interest in the fusion of the arts meant that printmaking became ‘a logical extension of his research’, which can be viewed as a natural progression of his artistic growth and development  Pasmore found that ‘aquatint [was] the medium most appropriate to his aims as a printmaker’, through which he could achieve his desired result of combined ‘solidity of form and transparency of colour’.
Through our research it was determined that there are numerous prints, by Pasmore, which share the same name and were also produced in 1996 which means that Sensory World, 1996 was part of a series of prints. In fact, there are also variations on the composition of the work, instead of the yellow Pasmore uses a striking aquamarine colour as a backdrop for the meandering lines and bold black marks in Sensory World (fig. 4). It was not uncommon for Pasmore to produce a series of prints for example, Magic Eye Suite which forms part of the collection of prints and drawings at the Tate Modern (fig. 5). The suite consists of seven prints, four different compositions which are reworked in various colours and were all produced in 1995. A similar pattern is observed in his variations of Sensory World.
The importance of Pasmore as an artist is clear from his inclusion in world-class collections internationally including the Tate Modern, who also house a collection of his prints, and Tate Britain in London. His work is also found in local public collections, most notably at the Victor Pasmore Gallery in Valletta. The gallery, established in 2014, has a selection of Pasmore’s work on permanent display. He has also been the subject of numerous publications including a monograph by Alistair Grieve in 2010 and more recently a large retrospective exhibition of his work titled Victor Pasmore: Towards a New Reality was held at Lakeside Arts, Nottingham in 2017.
While the influence Pasmore had on Maltese art is debated, it is undeniable that he cultivated meaningful friendships with other local artists. His introverted nature as well as the fact that he came to Malta to retire from his teaching career perhaps meant that his intention was not to send out waves in the Maltese art world. Nevertheless, he formed close bonds with a number of prominent twentieth-century Maltese artists such as Gabriel Caruana (1929 – 2018), Antoine Camilleri (1922 – 2005), Alfred Chircop (1933-2015) and Richard England (fig. 6). It is also important to note that while Pasmore was on the island he participated in local exhibitions.
The print is in excellent condition. There is no evidence of foxing, discolouration or any other stains in the paper which means that the vibrancy of the colours used by Pasmore is still present. The paper has never been torn, folded or otherwise damaged and it appears to be in great condition. It should be noted that the work was likely cut down when the work was framed.
Due to the print’s excellent condition it requires no immediate intervention. Nevertheless, Artemisia always recommends minimal intervention and always advocates reversible, professional methods of restoration. In this case we strongly recommend preventative measures as part of proper conservation where possible. Additionally, we advise for the print to be exhibited inside a controlled environment which receives minimal sunlight and cleaned infrequently. Cleaning should only be carried out gently with a dry feather duster.