Richard Dormant | “The Peculiarity of Algernon Newton, Daniel Katz Gallery, London, review” | 2012

Algernon Newton, "Spring Morning Campden Hill"

Algernon Newton, “Spring Morning Campden Hill”

Excerpts from Richard Dormant’s November 2012 review of an Algernon Newton retrospective published in the The Telegraph. Algernon Newton was Robert Newton’s father, a painter.

Juxtapose with Robert Newton’s character, the painter Lukey, in Odd Man Out.

*

Invalided out of the Army in 1916, divorced and living apart from his children, at a low moment he was reduced to selling his paintings on street corners, so ashamed of his failure that he pretended to be disabled, and wore a mask to disguise his identity. By the time he was 40, he had long been familiar with what the 19th-century critics Jules and Edmond de Goncourt described as “the bohemia that embitters”. […]

Unlike Canaletto, Newton never moved on to paint the kind of subjects that would have made him popular with the public. At every stage in his career, he chose motifs that were the antithesis of the picturesque – the parts of London tourists never see, where, he said, we glimpse the city as if “from the wings in a theatre”.  […]

In Spring Morning Camden Hill, he paints nothing more exciting than an empty London street. With no people or cars in sight, only a To Let sign suggests human habitation, while the rigour of the one-point perspective makes the street look like a stage set before the first actor makes his or her entrance.  […]

In a thoughtful catalogue introduction, Andrew Graham-Dixon reasonably proposes that the deserted street and inexplicable sense of menace here reflect the artist’s early experience of domestic unhappiness and (possibly) post-war trauma. Certainly, this is the kind of picture that you’d expect a man suffering from shell shock or chronic depression to paint.

Except that Spring Morning Camden Hill was painted in 1940, which is decades after you’d expect some of those traumas to have been laid to rest.  […]

I do not deny that the atmosphere in the picture is unsettling, but what I can’t quite put my finger on is why. Perhaps it is because Newton achieved his effects by painting with transparent glazes, a technique that leaves virtually no evidence of the painter’s touch in the form of brushstrokes or impasto. But if Newton is consciously or unconsciously revealing something about himself here, then his is a rare example of expressionism without distortion.

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