© Estate of Victor Pasmore. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015.


Victor Pasmore (1908 – 1998)


152 X 152 CM
Accession number


“[…] whereas in representational art the spectator is confined to a point which is always at a distance from the object, in abstract form he must handle, feel, move around and get into the work if he is to apprehend fully the intentions of the artist.”[1]

It was the plumb-line method of measuring that most interested Victor Pasmore during his years as a founder member of the Euston Road School of Painting (1937-9).[2] Rather than the social conscience that preoccupied his fellow teacher at the school William Coldstream – art, Pasmore thought, needed to be entirely independent –, it was the idea of objective standards in painting appealed to him. Nothing, perhaps, could be more objective, scientific and difficult to argue with than a vertical line made by gravity pulling a piece of string straight.

In 1937, he gained an independence of his own when Kenneth Clark’s patronage allowed him to quit his day job at the London County Council and concentrate on art full-time. This involved a gradual movement away from representative painting – notably of Wendy Blood, whom he married in 1940 – or of London scenes such as The Gardens of Hammersmith No.2 (1949, Tate Collection)), in which we can see a move towards setting down features such as trees as visual facts in their own right, in a system of dots and dashes, rather than as objects which make the painting somehow “dependent” on the originals. A clearer line can be drawn in the dimension of history between Linear Motif (1962-65) and paintings such as Spiral Motif in Green, Violet, Blue and Gold: the Coast of the Inland Sea (1950, Tate Collection), in which the dominant expressive unit is the spiral. As Chris Stephens points out,[3] Pasmore and many of his contemporaries were interested in the spiral’s status as a form of natural growth – as in snail shells – but this is pointedly an Inland sea, flowing from within the painter. Then, in 1951, with all the scientific seriousness by which his career was characterised, he announced the “death” of easel painting.

Linear Motif then, is not an easel painting, but an abstract relief – relief as in landscape or terrain, raised from the flat surface we might expect a painterly line to run along. Its lines could in fact be mistaken for the contours of an Ordnance Survey map, or, even more ironically, the flow of gently curved lines of grains of wood: perhaps here, two pieces pushed together. The level of art-historical and intellectual ballast that accompanies Linear Motif does not overcome Pasmore’s desire to have it “independent”, and neither does it make it austere. Despite the technology of the material – plastic – and the use of printmaking technique (gravure), there is a surprising emotional charge to be unlocked tracing the flowing lines of this piece. As Pasmore wrote the year before its creation, “It is both the paradox and the mystery of art that the greater the objectivity the deeper the subjective penetration”. [4]

Overton, 2010.

Victor Pasmore, 'What is Abstract Art', Sunday Times azine Section], 5th February 1961.
[2] Andrew Lambirth, ‘Pasmore, (Edwin John) Victor(1908–1998)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford: OUP, Sept 2004); online edn, May 2006
[3] Chris Stephens, Catalogue entry,, Feb. 1998.
[4] Pasmore, ‘What is Abstract Art’, (1961).