Mary Newcomb

The Spectator, Andrew Lambirth, 2013

Another original was the painter Mary Newcomb (1922 - 2008). How to describe her work? The nearest I can get is this: poetic realism of extraordinary oddness and gentle lyricism, which lodges in the mind and radiates sensations of quiet revelation and benign surprise. At her best (and there are a number of very fine examples in the current show by her long-time dealers Crane Kalman) Newcomb is utterly beguiling. She takes a subject as seemingly neutral as a black-and-white house in a field at the end of a day. Into the warm apricot sky she streaks some sunset colour behind the chimneypots, reminiscent of a flag or a rainbow, and the magic sets in. To the left of the house is a three-storey hen coop (how do the chickens get out of their high rise?), to the right a minuscule water tower. At the top corners of the painting are grey-black castors on wires, four on the left, two on the right, which echo another four on the left-side back of the house. Although not visibly joined by cables, these are presumably telephone connections. There are trees, also dwarfed like everything else by the house, and finally one notices two tiny figures near the very front of the picture, almost lost amid the lush and joyful patterning of meadow: a black cat and a white and black cat.


Clearly Newcomb's vision is firmly rooted in observation, but the way she combines and reinterprets what in other hands would look trite becomes under her shaping intelligence unique. Not to be missed.


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May 11, 2013