Maremma is a coastal area of central Italy which borders the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is unclear if or when Wynter visited the country, but landscape was the key inspiration in his work and this painting is Mediterranean in its ebullient colouring, particularly in comparison to the earthier, Nordic mood of his other work from the period such as Mars Ascends (1956, Tate Collection). Where those works rely on a palette of brown and grey, Maremma is structured around two strikingly contrasted areas divided on a vertical axis, with predominant areas of lilac-purple on the left-hand side and orange-yellow on the right. Wynter’s approach to making abstract art was accretive, and this colour contrast was not the fulfilment of a predetermined scheme but an organic result, arrived at over a lengthy period spent painting and re-painting the surface. This was a process of enrichment, wholly unplanned, and the final appearance of a work like Maremma is the result of well-practised improvisation.
The all-over pattern of working and the consequent absence of focus points was a defining characteristic of Wynter’s work between 1956 and 1964. Nevertheless, in spite of his improvisatory approach, his finished works at that time always had an integrity and sense of completeness which derived from a traditional, essentially pictorial idea of painting, which predated the Second World War. After all, like his fellow painterly contemporaries Alan Davie and Peter Lanyon, he had studied at art school before the Second World War and retained a debt to the representational manner of Neo-Romanticism which he himself practised for a time.
Despite the integrated completeness of Wynter’s work, his use of carefully controlled painterly surface effects are a decidedly advanced artistic development. Most notable in Maremma is the mixing together of transparent and opaque brushwork, with saturated zones of colour intermingling with luscious sweeps of thinned oil paint. Where the paint has been thinned, it behaves as a glaze, layered over earlier stages of the work which remain visible. The integration of these intentional pentimenti are one of the salient aspects of Wynter’s art, and they attest to his technical ability as a painter of international importance during this period. Indeed, the improvisatory approach which he adopted is comparable to the New York School’s habit of ‘action painting’, as described by Harold Rosenberg, though these developments were altogether unknown in the UK at the time. Along with other Cornwall-based abstract painters, Wynter can be credited with originating a painterly practice which was no less advanced at the time than any being used in France or the United States.
Between 1945 and 1964, Wynter lived near Zennor in a desolate, windswept property. The village waxed large in the imagination of many artists working in Cornwall. It was evoked by a wide range of artists in the middle decades of the twentieth century, including Borlase Smart, Adrian Stokes, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Peter Lanyon, and Barbara Hepworth. Wynter’s house was called Carn and, without electricity or a telephone connection, it kept Wynter and his family far-removed from the bourgeois comforts of nearby St Ives or Penzance.
This difference of lifestyle illustrates how Wynter chose to stand apart from his contemporaries – the likes of Terry Frost, Roger Hilton, Patrick Heron and Peter Lanyon, who also cultivated a style of painterly abstraction in the post-war years. These artists are often roped together in one of the best-established myths in modern British art history: ‘the St Ives Group’. It was more of a milieu than a formal group. Aside from the catholic exhibiting outlet of the Penwith Society of Arts, their work was only shown together in a few rare moments – at a touring Canadian exhibition of 1955 and ‘56, Six Painters from Cornwall, and at the Waddington Galleries in 1959, ’60 and ’65. The selection of artists was never consistent, with Lanyon excluded altogether and the Canadian show omitting Wynter.
Wynter was also rare among his painterly peers as the recipient of a solo exhibition at Galerie Charles Lienhard – a distinguished, Zurich-based dealer of contemporary art. Lienhard also showed Hilton, William Scott and Ben Nicholson, among certain other select British artists of the period. Wynter’s show was held in 1962, shortly after the Museum of Modern Art in New York had pounced on his painting Meeting Place – a work exhibited at his previous solo exhibition in London, held in 1959. In these years, Wynter’s reputation reached far beyond the confines of his Cornish existence, and it was during these years, at the height of his creative powers, that he executed Maremma – a monumental painting which stands alongside the contemporary work of Americans like Jackson Pollock and French tachistes such as Soulages and Fautrier.
Waddington Galleries, London Gillian Jason Gallery, London At Sotheby's, London, 21 July 2005, lot 71 Private Collection At Christie's Online, 14 July 2020, lot 88
1964, Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art, Young British Painters, Oct. - Nov. 1964 1976, London, Hayward Gallery, Bryan Wynter 1915-1975: Paintings, Kinetics and Works on Paper, 5 - 30Aug. 1976, cat. no. 52