Horizontal Painting with Soft Black Squares

Patrick Heron (1920 - 1999)

Oil on canvas

January 1959

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© The Estate of Patrick Heron. All rights reserved, DACS 2016

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  • About the work
    Country: Japan
    City: Tokyo
    Place: British Embassy

    Square and rectangular blocks of colour appear to float in front of a vertically striped background in this painting, their soft edges blurring into one another. During the late 1950s Patrick Heron created a body of works collectively known as his ‘stripe paintings’.  These works, which include this painting, were based around groups of soft discs and rectangles, which he likened to ‘islands in the sea’. In 1956, Heron – like many artists of his generation – had visited the first exhibition of American Abstract Expressionism at the Tate Gallery. The exhibition had a huge impact on his artistic practice and he came to recognise the importance of colour when creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat canvas. This painting is characteristic of Heron’s work from the late 1950s, which saw his most intense engagement with abstraction.


    Heron regarded colour as the overriding subject of his art, and he often publicly commented on it. Speaking in 1958, he said: 


    ‘My main interest, in my painting, has always been in colour, space and light. [Colour] is both the subject and the means; the form, and the content, the image and the meaning in my painting.’

  • About the artist
    Patrick Heron was born in Leeds and studied at the Slade School of Art in London from 1937-39. During the 2nd World War he was an assistant at the Bernard Leach pottery in St Ives, where he met Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. From 1953-56 he taught at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. Until 1955 he worked in a figurative style derived from Matisse, painting still life and interiors with bright colours and complex spatial relationships. His conversion to pure abstraction in 1956 coincided with his move to Eagle’s Nest, Zennor, near St Ives in Cornwall, where he lived and worked until his death. Heron was appointed a CBE in 1977 and was a trustee of the Tate from 1980 until 1987. A major retrospective of his work was held at the Tate in 1998 and his work can be found in international collections including Tate; the Arts Council Collection; and the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh.
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    Materials & Techniques
    canvas, oil, oil painting
  • Details
    Horizontal Painting with Soft Black Squares
    January 1959
    Oil on canvas
    height: 56.00 cm, width: 122.00 cm
    Purchased from the New Art Centre, April 1985
    Purchased from the artist by Victor Waddington, 23 February 1959;… ; acquired by New Art Centre, London UK; from whom purchased by UK Government Art Collection, 23 April 1985
    GAC number