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Algernon Newton (1880 - 1968)

Lot 41: ALGERNON CECIL NEWTON R.A. (1880-1968) St Paul’s Rising out of the Fog

Bonhams 3

June 13, 2018
London, United Kingdom

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ALGERNON CECIL NEWTON R.A. (1880-1968) St Paul’s Rising out of the Fog signed with monogram (lower left) oil on canvas 76.5 x 99.3 cm. (30 1/8 x 39 1/8 in.) Painted in 1949


Provenance Probably with The Fine Art Society, London Sale; Christie’s, London, 6 November 1981, lot 177 (as Saint Paul’s Cathedral), where acquired by Jill Anne Bowden, by whom bequeathed to the present owner Private Collection, U.K. Exhibited London, Leicester Galleries, Paintings of London by Algernon Newton, April 1951, cat.no.10 St Paul’s Rising out of the Fog was until recently considered a lost picture. Known only from a black and white photograph and a preliminary sketch in the Tate Gallery archives, the artist’s notebooks detail that it was believed to have been destroyed in a fire. Its re-entry into Newton’s oeuvre brings to the fore a concern in his work which has previously not been so overt. As a celebrated painter of dramatic and unpopulated cityscapes, especially of London, St Paul’s Rising out of the Fog could be viewed as a rather typical painting for Newton. Yet its iconic subject, and the associated connotations in the immediate post-war years, set this canvas apart from Newton’s more commonplace compositions. For his London scenes Newton usually favoured the then quiet and undeveloped areas of Bayswater, Paddington and the industrial landscapes along the Regent’s Canal. Certainly, these cityscapes dating to the 1940s and 50s display a more sombre tone than those of the 1920s and 30s and Andrew Graham-Dixon remarks that in the later works ‘war was surely there too…painted even as they were several years after the end of the conflict. It is there as absence, silence, shadow’ (exh.cat., Andrew Graham-Dixon, The Peculiarity of Algernon Newton, Daniel Katz Gallery, 2012, p.10). Yet this reading of the work is subtle and subjective. It is the case that Newton, who was a committed pacifist, found that war occupied his thoughts deeply for some time following 1945. He drafted two short stories (never published) which presented events of the Second World War in alternative realities but these were to be kept private. St Paul’s Rising out of the Fog can be seen as a much more public declaration of how the war had played on his mind. Between 1940 and 1941 London was bombarded by the Luftwaffe, with great swathes of the city reduced to rubble. Conscious that the city needed hope amidst the Blitz, Sir W inston Churchill declared that at all costs, St Paul’s must be saved . Although twenty-nine incendiary bombs fell on and around the cathedral, a concerted effort by a dedicated team of fir ewatchers meant that whilst almost every building around the site burned to the ground the famous dome defiantly stood proud. On the night of the 29th of December 1940 photographer Herbert Mason captured an image of the cathedral, illuminated by the fires and surrounded by smoke, which is now known as St Paul’s Survives. The photo was printed on the front cover of the Daily Mail on New Year’s Eve and became immediately famous. It has since become a symbol of British resilience and courage, and is considered one of the most iconic images of the Blitz. It is surely an image that Newton would have been familiar with and the parallels in composition between St Paul’s Survives and St Paul’s Rising out of the Fog are numerous. Although no direct reference is made to the image in the Artist’s notes, it is most plausible that the photograph would have entered Newton’s mind as the painting was being conceived. Showing the cathedral almost a decade on fr om the Blitz, Newton paints London smog and heavy cloud in place of the thick black ground smoke and billowing plumes of Mason’s photograph. The surrounding buildings have been rebuilt, but are dissolved by Newton in a hazy fog r ecalling their once derelict state. Dramatic illumination from blazing fires of the photograph has given way to a low, late evening light which draws focus to the ball and cross atop the dome against a peaceful blue, rather than the blackened and scorched night sky. Newton’s St Pauls is calm and at peace, yet he is ensuring that its dark and turbulent r ecent history is not forgotten. We are grateful to Nicholas Newton for his assistance in cataloguing this lot. 90 91

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Modern British and Irish Art

Bonhams 3
June 13, 2018, 3:00 PM BST

London, United Kingdom