15 x 11 1/8 in
Private Collection, UK
Mark Gertler Works 1912-28 - 'A tremendous Show of Vitality', Piano Nobile, London, 12 October - 16th November 2012
Epstein took me to the British Museum and there revealed to me such
wonders in works of art that my inspiration knew no bounds and I came to
the conclusion that Egyptian art is by far, by far, by far, the greatest of all art.
[ . . . ] We moderns are but ants in comparison. But ants! As I think of this great
art my ambition doubles and redoubles! [ . . . ] if I am given many years in this
world, I think! I think! I shall do great things!
Although the Egyptian influence could still be detected in Gertler’s work as late as 1914, in 1912 that of the early Italian Renaissance painters was stronger still, as ‘‘I think of the National Gallery with all its joys[:] Michelangelo!!!! Botticelli !!! [Piero della] Francesca !!! [ . . . ]’, he wrote to fellow artist Dora Carrington in July, ‘my mouth opens itself and smiles what a joyous smile!’. The origins of this style, known among its followers as Neo-Primitivism, can be traced back to a trip to Paris in Easter 1910, and the mutual enthusiasm of Gertler and his ‘quintet’ of Slade friends for the ‘Primitive’ room at the Louvre. This quintet initially comprised Gertler, Nevinson, Edward Wadsworth, Adrian Allinson and David Sassoon, but the last-named, a quiet, likeable student, was ultimately edged out by the more forceful presence of John Currie. Famously, it was Currie who, in 1912, captured the group for posterity, transforming them into ‘Some Later Primitives’, using the tempera technique of their quattrocentro masters. ‘Neo-Primitive’, however, was an imprecise label. The term ‘primitive’ had been commonly used since the mid-19th century to describe pre-Renaissance European masters, such as Cimabue and Giotto in Italy, and the early Netherlandish painters. By the end of the 19th century, however, the label was more generally applied to the art associated with those cultures believed to be less ‘advanced’ than the European. Post-Impressionism contributed to this myth with Gauguin’s ‘primitive’ pictures of Tahiti, and later, the influence of African carvings in the work of Picasso and Braque and sculptors including Epstein. In less than a year, infused with the spirit of Post-Impressionism, Gertler would also be re-applying the word ‘primitive’ in this later context to his own work.