Algernon Newton

There is a small show of his work on at the Daniel Katz Gallery in Old Bond Street at the moment, which is worth catching. Newton’s work appears occasionally in the sale room. It is not, and can never have been, fashionable, but it is painting done by a serious, trained artist and merits attention on that basis.

Throughout the mid-century there were a number of artists working away in the British Isles in a skilled, traditional fashion, although in Newton’s case, the traditional painting skills were being put to some slightly subversive purpose. His pictures are superficially calm representations of landscapes and townscapes (never people except diminutive figures). Yet there is some sort of agenda on the painter’s mind. The viewer reads the pictures as something more than realistic representations. The weather is emphasised; the calmness is eerie rather than simply calm; there is some sort of symbolism in the broken trees, the morning light, the flash of lightning. In terms of technique, the pictures have benefited from a study of artists like Canaletto. Newton was a serious artist; it just isn’t clear what he was being serious about.

The most obvious comparison would be with Tristram Hillier’s fine work. I prefer that: the menace is clearer. It is still subtle, but in Hillier’s case the subtlety has in many cases been channelled through a religious angst which we can follow.

The Peculiarity of Algernon Newton, Katz Gallery, 28 November-21 December 2012