Ceri Richards CBE (CBE 1903 – 1971)
‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower….’
Signed and dated 1945 lower left
27 x 21.5 cm (10.5 x 8.25 in)
Ceri Richards was born in the Welsh mining village of Dunvant on the edge of the Gower Peninsula where regular Chapel attendance and familiarity with the local landscape with its wooded valleys, wild commons and coastal estuaries, imbued him with a deep love and respect for nature and its cyclical seasons.
A gifted draughtsman, he attended Swansea School of Art (1921 - 1924) and won a scholarship to attend the Royal College of Art in London where he studied alongside Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, Paul Nash and Edward Burra. Subsequently, in the late 1920s and 30s he developed into a leading British modernist, absorbing the European influences of Picasso and Cubism, and Max Ernst and Surrealism. He also expanded his vocabulary into three dimensional abstract and biomorphic boxed relief constructions and collages which could broadly be described as surreal.
During the 1940s, Richards created a series of apocalyptic images which identified the cataclysm of war with the cyclical drama of nature itself. These were inspired by the poetry of Dylan Thomas.
Made between 1943 and 1945 they were made in relation to Thomas’s 1933 poem ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower….’ in which the first stanza reads:
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blast the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
The present mixed media work is a fully worked, signed and dated example from that series of which there are three oil paintings and several lithographs as well as other works on paper. In it, a heart/leaf/phallus shaped seed, channels its way through the earth beneath a sensual reclining nude figure, before erupting into daylight with a pillar of fruit. In the 2002 Ceri Richards retrospective staged by the National Museum of Wales, the art historian Mel Gooding described the series as ‘visual allegories of sex, and natural violence, of procreation, growth and efflorescence, of destruction and death; a complex and utterly original response to the mood of the period.’ They were, he wrote later in the artist’s biography, ‘some of the most powerful and profound images to come out of the war,’ going on to draw parallels with Francis Bacon’s work of that time. There are also parallels with the great American surrealist turned abstract expressionist, his exact contemporary, Arshile Gorky.
After the war, the surrealist element gives way to more lyrical figurative paintings that embrace family life in the aftermath of war, with particular references to the warmth and colour of Matisse, and then again, to the more abstracted responses to the music of Debussy – music being one of the most absorbing influences in his life and work.
In his last years Richards returned to Dylan Thomas with paintings and prints based on ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’ and the cycle of nature theme, though in a graphically more simplified way.
In 1960 a retrospective of Richards’ work was held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery and he was awarded the CBE. Two years later he represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale where he won the Einaudi Painting Prize. In 1981, a decade after his death, he was the subject of a major retrospective at the Tate Gallery. His work is represented in numerous public collections including The Tate, The Arts Councils of England and Wales, The National Museums of Wales and Scotland, The City of Southampton, The UK Government Art Collection, The British Council, The National Museum of Northern Ireland, Leeds Museum and Art Gallery, The Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio, Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, The Walker Art Gallery Liverpool, Manchester City Art Gallery, and The National Portrait Gallery, London.