John Minton (British, 1917-1957) Summer Landscape 55.8 x 80.7 cm. (22 x 31 3/4 in.) (Executed in 1945)

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Lot 6AR
John Minton
(British, 1917-1957)
Summer Landscape 55.8 x 80.7 cm. (22 x 31 3/4 in.)

Sold for £ 150,000 (US$ 211,268) inc. premium
John Minton (British, 1917-1957)
Summer Landscape
signed and dated 'John Minton 1945' (upper left)
pen and ink on card
55.8 x 80.7 cm. (22 x 31 3/4 in.)
Executed in 1945


  • Provenance
    Sigmund Pollitzer (1913-1982), from whom acquired by the family of the present owner in the 1970s
    Private Collection, U.K.

    London, Fischer Fine Art, The British Neo-Romantics, 1935-1950, 13 July-19 August 1983,; this exhibition travelled to Cardiff, National Museum of Wales, 27 August-25 September (ill.b&w)

    Malcom Yorke, The Spirit of Place: Nine Neo-Romantic Artists and their Times, Constable, London, 1988, p.180 (ill.b&w)

    "God how I love the land to stand and see it move in intricate perspectives to the heathaze of the gentle skyline, and there always the violence, the clear sharp violence of things living and growing and of being young walking the earth ... I love the sea, treacherous, cold, impersonal, caught by the moon and shifted in the giant tides, the waves breaking forever with the subtle cruelty of terrible indifference." (John Minton in Frances Spalding, John Minton Dance till the Stars Come Down, Lund Humphries, Aldershot, 2005, p.76).

    Minton wrote this in a letter to a friend in the summer of 1944 whilst at Germoe, in south Cornwall. He stayed there for six weeks on the invitation of Sydney Graham and his girlfriend Nessie Dinsmuir, and would return to the area the following two years. The accommodation was to be two gypsy caravans, south of the village and towards Praa Sands beach. Graham was a keen admirer of the arts, who was to befriend a number of Cornish artists, and had hung the caravan walls with reproductions of Graham Sutherland paintings. Although unlocated by title the topography of Summer Landscape; rolling hills, steep cliffs topped by cornfields and the sea beyond suggest we are viewing a Cornish scene. Indeed, the curious overhang of the rock-face to the left of the composition bares resemblance to Rinsey Head, a beauty spot which was just a stone's throw from Minton's caravan.

    As a student at St. Johns Wood School of Art in the mid-1930s, Minton was introduced to the etchings and drawings of Samuel Palmer by the principal Patrick Millard who encouraged emulation of his mazy linear style. Minton's admiration of Palmer's work was rekindled when in 1943 he moved into a shared house with the two Roberts (Colquhoun and MacBryde), who both viewed Palmer as a key influence, as well as an article published in Horizon magazine two years earlier which reproduced two early Palmer studies, including Valley Thick with Corn (1825). Minton proceeded to execute several impressive pen and ink works which pay homage to Palmer by both employing certain motifs (in the current example a tightly handled cornfield in the centre of the composition) and through exquisite draughtsmanship across the composition, encouraging equal attention to be garnered to every aspect of the scene – a key element of Palmer's approach.

    Such works were first shown at a successful exhibition at the Lefevre Gallery with the two Roberts in October of 1944. Minton was rewarded with two further solo London exhibitions the following year, and amongst the works shown were compositions executed in his studio based on memories of his Cornish trip the summer prior. The present work could fall into this category and is stylistically fitting. However, in a letter from Minton dated to 1945, he reports from a second Cornish excursion:

    'this is from Cornwall: a high wind and blue sky so the caravan is rocked. I've been here a fortnight making detailed drawings of the landscapes... a lot of rather Sutherland attempts and the receding hills and spiked gorse on the lichened stone dykes... It seems remote, unreal... you would like it here, for here one feels safe. To read of the atomic bomb is like a strange fiction from outside, here close to the sea, what could be more improbable?' (Minton to Judith Hollman, Tate Gallery Archive, TGA.918.1.3).

    The description of works produced could well refer to Summer Landscape and as such the work could equally have been executed in the south west. The mention of the atomic bomb suggests that the letter was written after 6 August 1945, when an atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. This comment reinforces Minton's perception of Cornwall as a haven safe from destruction and threat and thusly his motivation for celebrating his experience there in such an accomplished composition, but may it also provide the key for decoding the forlorn expression of the farm-hand as he tends to his now threatened idyllic lands? Or if the huddled sweethearts are just seeking shelter from a harsh sea breeze, or perhaps a greater menace?
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