An exhibition bringing together the paintings of Modern British artists William Scott (1913-89), Terry Frost (1915-2003), Peter Lanyon (1918-64) and Patrick Heron (1920-99) is also taking London’s Beaux Arts Gallery back to its roots.
Patricia and Reg Singh are founders of the gallery in Mayfair, which stages Four Giants of British Modernism from September 19 – October 19.
However, they first set up shop as Will’s Lane Gallery in St Ives during the early 1970s. They dealt in the figures revolutionising British art with a push towards abstraction.
“We were selling paintings that are now in their millions but at the time went for hundreds,” Patricia says. “They were already creating quite a sensation. [US critic Clement] Greenberg was coming down and talking to them. Nicholson and Hepworth were operating out of St Ives. Collectors used to come over from America to see their works. We were in the right place at the right time.”
Light and colours
Scott, Frost, Lanyon and Heron lived through the Second World War and, in the difficult world of post-war Britain, were inspired by the light, colours and look of the seaside town.
Of this group, Lanyon was the only Cornish native. He studied under Ben Nicholson before serving with the Royal Air Force from 1940-45. When he returned, he worked in paint, collage and pottery while looking to Constructivism, Abstract Expressionism and pop art.
Each man in the Giants show is represented by a handful of works, produced from the 1950s-80s.
Lanyon’s reflect his love of Mexico, which he visited in the 1960s, as well as his passion for gliding – a dangerous pursuit on the craggy southern coast, which ultimately led to his early death following an accident in 1964. The Singhs arrived in St Ives several years later and came to know the three other artists personally. “They were very different,” Patricia recalls, though they were on friendly terms and influenced one another’s art.
Scott, the oldest, was born in Scotland and joined the army in 1942, where he learned lithography and map-making. In the 1950s he experimented with Abstract painting, though, like his contemporaries, he was grounded in the figurative. On a trip to the to the US in the 1950s he met De Kooning, Pollock and Rothko (who would later pay his own visit to the St Ives School).
Heron had the most privileged upbringing of the group and arrived in Cornwall after studying at the Slade School. He registered as a conscientious objector during the war. Heron trained with studio potter Bernard Leach as well as Nicholson and Hepworth, and expressed his ideas on Modernism through critical writing as well as art.
Lanyon, Scott and Heron have all now had works pass the million-pound mark at auction.
Frost has so far topped out at six figures (according to the Art Sales Index) – perhaps, according to Patricia, because he was longer-lived and more prolific than the rest.
He was born into a working-class family and joined the army at the age of 18. In 1942 he was captured by the Nazis and held as a prisoner of war for four years. After moving to St Ives, where he shared a one-room cottage with his six children, he drew inspiration from the reflections of boats at sea during walks along the seaside. Coastlines and sails appear in the bold shapes of his ‘rhythmic’ compositions.
The Singhs opened their current Maddox Street space in 2014 after two decades on Cork Street, as well as an earlier stint in Bath. With this show they focus on the Abstract art of the St Ives School and “highlight the expressive potential of the paint itself”.
Patricia looks forward to seeing some familiar faces at the show, including some of the offspring of the artists represented. Then there are the works themselves, sourced from private collections which in some cases the Singhs have sold to in the past.
“There is one picture that we sold to a client 25 years ago,” Patricia says. “The owner died and we sold it for the family, but now it’s come back again. It’s an old friend.”
The price range at the show is £10,000-350,000.