Julian Trevelyan: Picture Language, Bohun Gallery, Henley-on-Thames, UK – review

“I do hope you’re not going to meet one of those Matisses or Picassos,”
the grand historian GM Trevelyan warned his nephew Julian when he left Cambridge for Paris in 1931. Soon the upper-class British student was mixing acids and transporting materials for Stanley William Hayter, whose “Atelier 17” was an open studio for artists old and young to experiment with print-making. Miró, Giacometti and Max Ernst were regulars; Picasso turned up occasionally; Trevelyan became an instant surrealist. His early work is derivative but attractive – the graffiti-like outline, with crescent and diamond shapes, of the mixed media “The City” (1936), for example, demonstrates how comprehensively he assimilated Parisian modernism and especially the influence of Miró.

Back in London, Trevelyan developed a figurative style incorporating abstract elements, sometimes verging on magic realism, but always rigorous in composition. His best painting is probably Tate’s “Interior, Hammersmith”, much admired by Georges Braque; it depicts Trevelyan’s Thames-side Chiswick home, boats coming in at the windows, ripples of water – and a giant fish – reflected on the ceiling.

Trevelyan’s apprenticeship with Hayter laid the foundations for his distinguished career as a printmaker, especially in the 1960s-70s. This was when he began an excellent relationship with Bohun Gallery, which handles his estate; the gallery’s Thames setting echoes that of his Chiswick home. This show spans his life but concentrates on later work, after illness reduced his mobility and the simplifications of line and bold blocks of separate colour which he used in etching influenced elegantly economical paintings. Everything here expresses his wit, quirky eye and flair for distilling an essence of place: “Boules”, where the Picasso-like Harlequin costumes of the players are echoed in diamond-shaped plane trees and rooftops in Provence; the half-submerged hippos alongside a tilting boat caught in the geometric rays of a glaring sun in his “Africa Suite”; Manhattan as a black-and-white grid of skyscrapers and traffic jams beneath a purple sky.

Until June 1, www.bohungallery.co.uk

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