Leslie Marr b. 1922


Artist's Collection 
After the successful trip to New Zealand, Marr became an elected member of the London Group in 1961 and of the National Society in 1963, subsequently exhibiting in their annual shows. In 1962 he remarried, to Lynn Moynihan. His summers during these years were spent in Antibes in the South of France, and in 1963 – owing perhaps to his increased artistic confidence – Marr took on the challenge of painting Montagne Sainte-Victoire near Aix-en-Provence. Before addressing the artistic history that encrusted the mountain, Marr would certainly have known it as a site of local pilgrimage and identity. Beneath the mountain lay a historic battleground, one fought over between the Romans and the Teutons in 102 BC, and to this day the mountain itself wears the Christian symbol of the region – the Croix de Provence – with an accompanying chapel on its uppermost ridge. As was his method, Marr would have been attuned to these issues when approaching his subject, using them as a reservoir of emotion to colour and structure his exploration of the subject.

Out of the three major oils completed on the visit, this first is the most archetypally Cézannesque in its handling, though the angle of the mountain is Marr’s own. He consciously followed in the French master’s footsteps, seeking out the same inn and the village of Le Tholonet where he had stayed, then orbiting the mountain with canvas, easel, and all necessary paraphernalia strapped to his back. Mont St. Victoire (I) eschews darker and more expressionistic tones, following Cézanne’s palette more closely instead: the azure of the Provençal sky seems reflected across the shimmering hillside, and forms a flattened patchwork with deep greens offered by the stone pine and cypress trees. Marr’s homage to Cézanne continues in short dashes of paint confidently worked to tessellate with bare patches of canvas in the foreground, and which build towards his attempted articulation of the crystalline significance of the mountain. Longer gestural Bombergian strokes of expressionistic colour are also present, forming a unique balance of these two principal influences. It is these marks that witness a ferocious nature Marr perceived barely contained beneath the mountain’s surface. The handling of paint carries with it the mortal aggression the artist recognised when, in a hair-raising experience, he summited the mountain, hoisted up bare rock faces by two French boys who told him tales of death and
injury on their path.

Mont St. Victoire (II) adopts a more restricted palette, which sets greater emphasis on the dark outline of the mountain. This heavy delineation, single emphatic barrier, differs from Cézanne’s characteristic double, unstable bounding line. It laboriously marks the mountain’s formal delimitations and conveys a sense of its massed protuberance thrusting up into the air with the weight of the sky laid against it. In this appreciation of the scene’s elemental tensions, Marr recognises Cézanne’s legacy, but where his predecessor anchored his composition with the use of perpendicular brush strokes, Marr, like Bomberg, allows diagonal slippage to overtake his image. In both the versions presented here, the volume of Marr’s landscape rolls like thunder towards the viewer. The formal power of Cézanne’s mountain is unmistakable, but the classicising control which he first applied to make the subject famous is subverted by the dynamism, sublimity, and passion revealed by Marr.