Magazine article The Spectator

A Fine and Private Painter

Magazine article The Spectator

A Fine and Private Painter

Article excerpt

Prunella Clough: Regions Unmapped by Frances Spalding Lund Humphries, £35, pp. 240, ISBN 9781848220119 Prunella Clough was a modest and selfeffacing artist who nevertheless produced some of the most consistently original and innovative British art of the second half of the 20th century. She was by no means reclusive, enjoying an extensive social and teaching life, but she deliberately kept a low profile, being famously guarded with biographical details.

So much so, that a couple of young artists I knew in the mid-1980s were convinced that Clough was already dead, though she continued to paint and exhibit sporadically until her death in 1999.

How refreshing this is in an age of seemingly unbounded artistic egos, when relentless self-obsession has to make up for lack of real creativity. By contrast, Clough's paintings, drawings and prints continue to resonate in the mind and to offer fresh beguilement to the eye.

Frances Spalding has written the first book on Clough, a convincing combination of art history, criticism and biography. Spalding is best known as a biographer, whose lives of Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and most recently John and Myfanwy Piper, have won her much acclaim. In this new book she brings her biographical skills to bear upon the elusive Clough, sensitively illuminating the life in order to elucidate the work.

She does this without trespassing too far upon Clough's essential privacy, while giving the reader enough of context and human interest to keep avidly reading. Spalding understands the period, and the vagaries of the art world, and writes with considerable perception and elegance about Clough's singular achievement. Her book is a marvel of compression and lucidity, a welcome introduction but also a scholarly interpretation, and a fitting tribute to a remarkable artist.

Cara Prunella Clough-Taylor was born in Knightsbridge on 14 November 1919, the only child of wealthy parents. Her father, Eric, was a civil servant in the Department of Overseas Trade, who wrote serious poetry as well as light verse. Her mother, the Hon.

Thora Zelma Grace Gray, was an AngloIrish aristocrat. Thora's younger sister, and thus Prunella Clough's aunt, was the distinguished designer and architect Eileen Gray.

Largely self-taught, Clough briefly attended Chelsea School of Art, and then worked during the war as a graphic designer, drawing charts and maps. Her early work shows signs of surrealism and wartime neoromanticism, before seeking out something more individual.

She grew to relish a tough semiindustrial environment, beginning with the Suffolk fishing industry and then moving on to cranes and lorries, which she depicted with a combination of urban realism and semicubist formalism. …

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