Prunella Clough at Osborne Samuel

Jennifer Meredith explores the work of one of the most underrated female painters of the 20th century.

This April, the work of late post-war artist, Prunella Clough, will be on exhibit at the Osborne Samuel gallery in London’s Mayfair district. Known for her depictions of the industrial landscapes of London, the Midlands and East Anglia’s coastal towns, Clough is one of the most important, yet underrated, female painters of the 20th century. A selection of Clough’s work from the 1940s to the 1990s will be available to view at the gallery, alongside a collection of essays by Margaret Garlake and Gerard Hastings.

Born in 1919 to a wealthy family, she attended the Chelsea School of Art (now the Chelsea College of Art and Design), where she was tutored by renowned sculptor, Henry Moore. Following her conscription to become an engineers’ draughtsman and a cartographer during World War II, she attended Camberwell School of Art where she went on to teach part-time for 13 years. It was during this time that she frequented the seaside towns of Lowestoft and Southwold, visiting her Anglo-Irish mother in the process. It was in Suffolk that she began to produce haunting coastal-themed works such as ‘The White Root’ and ‘Trawl Net’, contrasting to her darker, gritty images of urban, industrial life.

A firm believer in the beauty of the ordinary, Clough produced distinct paintings with a focal point ranging from factory workers to everyday objects; this affinity towards the minutiae of the proletariat appeared to be a breath of fresh air for the post-war generation, as the majority of the country were experiencing a desensitisation towards depictions of luxury and indulgence. Clough often included unusual materials in her works, such as empty bleach bottles and planks of wood, but her chosen medium was oil, utilised in a narrow tonal spectrum to mimic the appearance of the bleak landscapes she visited during her career. She experimented in the regions of etching and lithographic print, creating bold, turbulent pieces in her studio often in sets of 10 or 15, but was reluctant to create editions due to her rejection of the commodification of art.

As her career progressed, Clough became widely regarded as an abstract artist; her work became looser and more expressive, yet still preserved the thought-provoking articulations of an artist observing post-war, British life. During this period, she began to introduce plant forms into her urban landscapes, and used earth-tones as background hues for her depictions of machinery and metal architecture, perhaps as a method of unifying the city with the countryside, a concordance which existed throughout her professional and personal life.

Following her death in 1999, two major retrospective exhibitions have taken place to celebrate her work: ‘Seeing the World Sideways’ at London’s Olympia in 2004, and at Tate Britain in 2007. The month-long exhibition at Osborne Samuel will feature paintings, collages, reliefs and drawings to illustrate, as a whole, the progression of her styles and influences over a five-decade career. The collection, portraying Clough as a prolific, female, post-war artist, will provoke viewers to reconsider the way in which they perceive their lives and the world around them.

See the exhibition at Osborne Samuel, 23a Bruton Street, London, W1J 6G, between 16th April and 16th May.