This painting is one of a series of London landscapes that mark Victor Pasmore’s transition from figurative to abstract work. Painted first in 1938 and then repainted in 1947, The window shows him blurring the boundaries between naturalism and abstraction.
Pasmore first painted The window when he was living on the top floor above the Eiffel Tower restaurant in Percy Street, central London. He has depicted the view from the window down Charlotte Street at the time of evening when the darkening sky intensifies the glow of street lights. At first glance the painting appears to be abstract, but a closer look reveals the subject — the window reflecting the lamp in the room, the curtains drawn back, the blinds, the table in front of the window with books and magazines, the night view of the city street with its tall buildings and car lights receding into the distance. The warm glow of lamp light pervades the interior and establishes the key to the glowing colour harmony.
In both subject and treatment, the view through the window reflects Pasmore’s association with the Euston Road School of Painting and Drawing. Pasmore was a co-founder of the school, which aimed to teach the craft of drawing and painting, and encouraged students to observe their subject matter closely without being preoccupied by theory or the dominant influence of the School of Paris. Opposed to the contemporary movements of constructivism and surrealism, Euston Road School artists revived realistic subject matter and painted scenes of everyday London life in a subdued, naturalistic style. With the outbreak of war in 1939, the Euston Road School closed and Pasmore turned increasingly from representational painting to abstraction.
The window was sold when it was first exhibited in about 1939. It was sold again at the Leicester Galleries in 1947, at which point Pasmore had the opportunity to repaint it, and in the process he reconstructed the composition. While retaining its original impressionist vision, the painting now also emphasised the geometric framework and prepared the way for Pasmore’s entirely abstract square motif works of 1948–49.
This essay originally appeared in Art at Te Papa (Te Papa Press, 2009).