Sir Roland Penrose (1900-1984)
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Sir Roland Penrose (1900-1984)


Sir Roland Penrose (1900-1984)
dated and inscribed 'ARTIFACT 37' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
24 x 18 in. (61 x 45.7 cm.)
Painted in 1937
The artist’s collection, until at least 1982.
Galerie 1900-2000, Paris.
Private collection, Germany, by whom acquired from the above, circa 1990.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
R. Penrose, Scrap Book, 1900-1981, London, 1981 (illustrated fig. 237, p. 99).
King's Lynn, Fermoy Arts Centre, Roland Penrose, July - August 1980, no. 16, p. 24 (titled 'Artefact'); this exhibition later travelled to London, Institute of Contemporary Arts, August - September 1980; Bristol, Arnolfini, October - November 1980; Preston, Harris Museum & Art Gallery, November - December 1980; Hull, Ferens Art Gallery, December 1980 - January 1981; and Barcelona, Fundació Joan Miró, Roland Penrose: Pintures, dibuixos, collages i objectes, February - March 1981, no. 18, p. 22 (titled 'Artefacte').
Paris, Galerie 1900-2000, Les enfants d'Alice: La peinture surréaliste en Angleterre, 1930-1960, May - June 1982, no. 111, pp. 83 & 99 (illustrated p. 83; with incorrect dimensions).
Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, The Surrealist and the Photographer: Roland Penrose, Lee Miller, May - September 2001, no. 13, n.p. (illustrated; with incorrect dimensions).
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In Sir Roland Penrose’s mysterious 1937 composition, Artifact, a strange, biomorphic creature stands atop an innocuous table, its otherworldly appearnce at odds with the banality of its surroundings. Although highly sculptural, its peculiar assemblage of body parts appearing like a man-made, Surrealist object, there is a distinct sense of animation to its form, as if it may turn to look at us, or gnash its teeth in our direction at any moment. Two arms spring from the crown of the metallic helmet which encases its vibrantly painted face, while another arm emerges from its mouth, an incongruous placement that adds a note of disquiet to the scene. The three hands grasp one another by the wrist, creating a complex, interlocking gesture, that alternatively appears tender and threatening, caring and violent.

With its arrangement of overlapping, interconnecting body parts, Artifact holds many affinities to the work of Pablo Picasso, who had been an important influence and an artistic idol for Penrose since the beginnings of his artistic career in the early 1920s. Penrose had first met Picasso just a year prior to the present work being created, during a heady summer visit to the home of Paul Éluard in Mougins. Although their initial encounter almost ended in disaster after Penrose crashed a car in which they were both travelling, injuring Picasso enough so that the Spaniard required x-rays and a brief trip to the hospital, it marked the beginning of an important and lasting friendship between the two artists, which would last until Picasso’s death. Penrose would come to own several important works by the artist, including Picasso’s iconic 1937 composition, Weeping Woman, now at the Tate Gallery in London.

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