An exquisite example of 1930s abstraction, Arthur Jackson’s Painting 1937 perfectly encapsulates the ideals of the European Modernist movement, which found a strong foothold in Hampstead, North London, before the start of the Second World War.
Jackson studied medicine at Cambridge University, following in the footsteps of his father, before abandoning his studies to train as an artist at Central Saint Martins School of Art from 1929 to 1932. Jackson found lodgings in Hampstead and was taken under the wing of his cousin Dame Barbara Hepworth and her future husband Ben Nicholson, who were older and more established artists at the forefront of the Modernist movement. Nicholson soon became Jackson’s tutor and the pair exhibited together in Nicolete Gray’s 1936 exhibition Abstract and Concrete alongside Hepworth and other notable modern artists such as Alexander Calder, Wassily Kandinsky, Joan Miró and Henry Moore. Jackson’s photos of the exhibition were to become an essential resource for art history scholars.
An epicentre of modernist ideals, Hampstead was a hotbed of creative energy whereby artistic practices and crafts such as textiles, design, architecture and visual art interlinked to channel the new abstract and constructivist ethos. International artists who championed abstraction such as Naum Gabo, László Moholy-Nagy and Piet Mondrian settled in Hampstead alongside leading architects such as Wells Coates, the modernist designer and architect of the 1934 Isokon building in Hampstead, Erno Goldfinger, the Modernist architect of 1 to 3 Willow Road, Hampstead and the esteemed Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius. Living at No. 22 Parkhill Road, Jackson resided in the midst of the movement, with Moore’s studio opposite, Nicholson and Hepworth at number 7 and Herbert Read living on Parkhill Road for some time in the thirties. Elected as a member of the 7 & 5 society in 1934, the group presented their first solely abstract exhibition in the same year. The 7 & 5 exhibition at the Zwemmer Gallery in 1936 featured a selection of key works by Jackson, a white relief by Nicholson, Hepworth's Discs in Echelon, which is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Moore's Four-Piece Composition: Reclining Figure, which is in the collection of Tate, London.
Painting 1937 was completed the same year in which Gabo’s essay ‘The Constructive Idea in Art’ was published in Circle, the ‘International Survey of Constructive Art’. This cross-cultural publication embodied the Modernist ideal that abstract artists or Constructivists were akin to architects and designers. In this essay Gabo suggested that form and content should be inextricably linked; he proposed that this theory should be applied to architecture, science and design as well as visual art. In Painting 1937, Jackson uses a combination of fluid lines, balanced colour planes and precise spatial measurement to give the appearance of three-dimensional formality. New planes are created through the interplay of shapes and the synchronicity between tonal and structural variants creates a rhythmic harmony.
In Jackson’s geometric work we can perhaps see the influence of one of the major figures of the international Modernist movement, László Moholy-Nagy. The former Bauhaus teacher worked on a series of paintings in the 1930s where anthropomorphic forms buoyantly hover in the centre of the canvas. Jackson’s shapes have curved, organic edges contrasted with straight, clinical lines, which intersect, forcing the eye to follow the paths created between line and colour. Jackson divides the composition into three measured sections, inside which three formal elements rest, gracefully suspended on the page. In the three balletic forms we see coloured planes of primary yellow, blue, and red, which act as visual anchors for the viewer. Thin arteries flow from and slice the coloured cores, whereby further planes are created and gracefully intersect. These coloured nuclei convey emotion through colour and, as they interconnect with the delicate yet mathematic threads, Jackson’s painting courses with kinetic energy. Jackson’s accomplished balance between form and colour suspends the viewer in a world of sublime contemplation.
Painting 1937 was purchased from Marlborough Gallery by the renowned Modernist architect Sir Leslie Martin and his wife and fellow architect Sadie Speight. The couple were pioneers of Modernism and Martin edited the anthology Circle alongside Nicholson and Gabo. In Circle, Jackson’s work was reproduced alongside Mondrian, Gabo, Moore and Hepworth amongst others and the Martins acquired a selection of Jackson’s paintings created between 1937 and 1939. Martin was appointed the head of the new Hull School of Architecture in 1934 and Painting 1937 was conceived in the same year Jackson moved to Hull to study architecture under Martin’s tutelage.