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Volunteer Gallery Steward, Tanya Kingston, takes a closer look at Mark Gertler's, Through the Window (Holt End, Berkshire), 1937.

During a spell of convalescence at Holt End, Berkshire, home of his devoted patron and close friend, publisher and art collector, Thomas Balston, Gertler painted this scene from his bedroom window. A striking oil on canvas painting, it portrays a peaceful and tranquil setting, quite possibly a reflection on Gertler’s - albeit brief – present state of mind. However, despite the peace it embues, the painting has an excited vibrancy of ‘feverishly hot colours’, indigo blue, deep red, greens and yellows. Such colour, vitality and dissonance is reminiscent of the Fauvists before him whereby colour was a means of expression, and paradoxically for Gertler an ‘emblem of well-being’. Completed in August 1937, Gertler described Through the Window as ‘somewhere between Sickert and Renoir.’

Beyond 1930, Gertler’s painterly style gravitated towards a ‘flatter sense of space’, which perhaps explains his handling of the path-like tiled pitched roof beyond the window. However, on closer inspection, the work has a painterly style and a textural quality with deliberate, directional palette knife marks, almost crude in nature. That said there appears to be nothing urgent in its execution, and together with the bold colours and texture, this painting is an assault on the senses.

To familiarise and acquaint oneself with Through the Window, I feel there is a need to understand the persona behind the painting, because whilst it is full of life and colour, the notion of ‘the window’ portrays a sense of sadness - of someone from the inside looking out on the world, a viewer on life; a song of the exiled self, perhaps?

Gertler, a Jewish émigré aware of his cultural roots, struggled throughout life to understand his identity – culturally, socially, emotionally and intellectually; a persona who lived his adult life amongst London’s social elite yet suffering due to time spent away from his family in the poor Jewish quarter of London’s East End. ‘I must go back…there lies my work, sordid as it is.’ And it is whilst contemplating the vibrancy and textural quality of Through the Window I do wonder, how much of Gertler’s childhood memories inspired this painting - the colourful East End with its cosmopolitan population of immigrants. From the sights, sounds and textures of the silk traders’ shop-fronts, the Yiddish theatre and music halls to aspects of ‘ghetto’ life which Gertler loved and participated in as a child.

Through the Window was painted two years before Gertler sadly took his own life. Yet his choice of scene – a window and pretty garden beyond – also gives the viewer a feeling of optimism and, may I be bold enough to suggest, momentary companionship for Gertler, as he has invited both you and I to look out of that window at Holt End with him.

Through the Window is currently on display in room 3. 

Images: Mark Gertler, Through the Window (Holt End, Berkshire), 1937 © Reproduced with the permission of Luke Gertler.


16 May, 2014
Written by Tanya Kingston