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Lost painting by British Surrealist Ithell Colquhoun goes on loan to Whitechapel Gallery

'Water Flower' by Ithell Colquhoun is now showing at the Whitechapel Gallery, London in the exhibition 'Phantoms of Surrealism' running until 12 December 2021.

Acquired by Plymouth College of Art in 2018, ‘Water Flower’ (1938) by British surrealist Ithell Colquhoun has been loaned to Whitechapel Gallery, London for the ongoing exhibition ‘Phantoms of Surrealism’. Showing until 12 December 2021, the archival exhibition will examine the pivotal role of women as both artists and as behind-the-scenes organisers within Surrealism in Britain in the 1930s.

Artist Ithell Colquhoun (1906 - 1988) is one of the artists selected for the exhibition, which hopes to shed new light on the contribution of women to important exhibitions such as the Artists International Association exhibition, which was held at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1939. Colquhoun spent much of her life in the Lamorna valley, near Penzance, Cornwall and during her lifetime was widely respected as an artist and occultist. Since her death, her oeuvre has been largely lost from public view, with her intellectual and artistic contributions to Surrealism, British modernism and occultism having seen some scholarly attention, but very little intensive investigation.

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'Water Flower' by Ithell Colquhoun

The lost painting, ‘Water Flower’, is one of three large paintings commissioned by the hospital in Moreton, a town in Gloucestershire, in 1935-36 for their renovated wards and waiting areas. Only one was ever hung, which is now lost, while another only exists as a watercolour study and is thought to have never been completed. ‘Water Flower’ is the third, intended for the women’s ward, but it was never delivered to the hospital. It remained in the artist’s possession until it was sold at an exhibition of her paintings in Penzance in 1973. It is only the second of Colquhoun’s flower paintings to enter a public or institutional collection.

Materials from the Whitechapel Gallery Archive, together with items from the National Galleries of Scotland, West Dean College of Arts and Jersey Heritage Trust will be shown alongside Plymouth College of Art’s donation.

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The painting in situ at the Whitechapel Gallery, London

‘Water Flower’ forms part of the college’s study collection of original works by artists including Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Gareth Neal, Anthony Frost, Martin Parr, Irvine Peacock and Brian Griffiths, displayed throughout the campus to enrich its creative learning environment and the research opportunities available to students, staff and visitors.

Associate Professor Judith Noble, Head of Academic Research at Plymouth College of Art said of the contribution to the exhibition: “Plymouth College of Art was delighted to purchase this painting, which is a unique example of Ithell Colquhoun’s work, and make it available for study and public viewing at a time when the importance of Colquhoun’s work is at last being recognises. She is now understood as a highly significant figure in British twentieth century art and we are pleased that this work has been included in an exhibition of national importance at the Whitechapel Gallery.”

Entry to the show is free. The Whitechapel Gallery is open every day except Mondays, from 11am to 6pm.