William Roberts: Loading Ballast

The William Roberts Society

William Roberts:

Loading Ballast

Illustration © The Estate of John David Roberts. Reproduced with the permission of the William Roberts Society. Catalogue information based on the catalogue raisonné by David Cleall. For this and full details of the exhibitions cited, see the links below. Any auction prices quoted may not include all fees and taxes, such as VAT and Artist's Resale Right charges.

Loading Ballast

Loading Ballast (aka The Mazeppa), 1927
Watercolour and drawing, 30 cm x 50 cm

'Drawn during a visit to Cassis in the South of France' – Tate Gallery 1965 catalogue. In his 1985 catalogue notes when the study for this picture was shown in Cambridge, John Roberts stated, 'In 1922 Roberts went to stay at La Ciotat near the little port of Cassis in Provence,' and Williams (2004) suggests that this was soon after the Robertses' marriage in that year. The 1965 catalogue dates the picture to 1924. However, the 1928 London Group catalogue says 1927, and Roberts's memory is likely to have been more reliable closer to the date of the visit. Cassis is a small fishing port near Marseille that attracted artists such as Matisse and Derain, and in the 1920s it was to become associated with a number of British artists, including the Bloomsbury set and the 'Scottish Colourists'. Edward Wadsworth (1889–1949) visited the area in 1921, and returned with Richard Wyndham in 1924. There is a useful point of comparison between Roberts's Loading Ballast and Wadsworth's pictures of sailing boats and seaports of this period; however, a significant difference is Roberts's emphasis on the workers loading the ballast, whereas Wadsworth's seaports are devoid of people and activity. The name of the boat, The Mazeppa, can be clearly read – Mazeppa being the eponymous protagonist of an opera by Tchaikovsky and a poem by Lord Byron.
Although shown in the London Group exhibition in 1928, the picture was not sold until 1931. In a posthumously published essay, Roberts complained of paying a commission twice through the London Artists' Association scheme. He explains that Loading Ballast was sold by Cooling Galleries (hosts of the LAA exhibition) for £7 7s. 0d. (it had been priced at 20 gns in 1928). The gallery's commission was £1 9s. 4d., the LAA commission was 14s. 8d. – leaving £5 3s. 0d. for 'the struggling young artist' ('Dealers and Galleries', in William Roberts, Five Posthumous Essays and Other Writings (Valencia, 1990), p. 108).
PROVENANCE: Sir Arthur Bliss > Mr and Mrs Richard Gatehouse > Sotheby's 13 Dec. 1967 > Professor Robert Holmes > Leeds City Art Gallery (bequeathed through the National Art Collections Fund, 1991)
EXHIBITION HISTORY: St George's Gallery (1) 1928, London Group 1928, London Artists' Association (1) 1929, London Artists' Association (3) 1931, Tate Gallery 1965
Cf. Loading Barges 1913 and Port of London c .1922

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