The picture offers a link between the seed of an idea and a finished painting from the British artist – one of the classic attractions of works on paper. Nash is one of a group of major names included in Drawn to Paper: Giacometti to Hockney, which runs at the west London gallery until May 12.
His first treatment of this subject where interior and exterior meet dates from 1930.
While staying in a hotel by the sea in the south of France, a mirror hanging in front of his bed reflected a large ship outside his window and he recorded this dream-like scene in an initial watercolour. That first picture concentrated on the bottom right corner of the composition.
Eventually he worked it up into an oil included in the London International Surrealist Exhibition held at the New Burlington Galleries in 1936.
That picture, which once belonged to the impresario – and Surrealist art and design champion – Edward James, is now included in the Tate’s collection. However, the example at Piano Nobile, once owned by Nash’s friend and fellow artist Charles Maresco Pearce, is of very similar composition and, crucially, is still on the market.
Peek into the process
Works on paper have a perennial attraction for collectors.
Such creations can be immediate and even intimate, offering a glimpse into the artist’s process.
On a practical level, they are also often more transportable than major paintings and statues and relatively affordable. Piano Nobile’s exhibition includes works by multi-million-pound artists such as Paul Gauguin, Edgar Degas and Lucian Freud. However, prices, which start at £20,000, top out at £500,000.
Here is an extreme example: while Henry Moore’s two-metre-long bronze Reclining Figure: Festival sold at Sotheby’s New York in November for $26.7m (£22.7m), his Seated Woman 1959 can be collected at the Piano Nobile show for a fraction of the price and takes up just 11 x 9in (28 x 24cm) on the wall.
Whereas the sculpture is highly finished, the pencil, pastel and watercolour offers a peek at how Moore constructs his forms and has a ragged left-hand edge suggesting the page has been taken from a personal sketchbook.
According to the gallery, its selection of works “map out the shift of influence from Paris to London that occurred in the mid-20th century”.
Some of the key highlights are works by Frank Auerbach and David Hockney. Despite the title (Giacometti to Hockney), the show starts in 1887 with a double-sided sheet of studies of a Martiniquais figure by Gauguin, a decade or so before the Italian artist was born.
The name of the show relates more to previous works on paper exhibitions it has staged (such as 2020’s Degas to Rego).
For those wishing to pursue the subject further, if not necessarily buy, it also ties in unofficially with a works on paper show scheduled for the Royal Academy in the autumn, Impressionists on Paper: Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec.