Gasometers

about 1930


Dimensions

Platemark: 25 x 30.2 cm (9 13/16 x 11 7/8 in.) Sheet: 30.2 x 37.1 cm (11 7/8 x 14 5/8 in.)

Accession Number

2008.104

Medium or Technique

Color monotype

Not On View

Collections

Europe, Prints and Drawings

Classifications

Prints

Monotype printed in colors


Cyril Power was one of the central figures of the Grosvenor School circle of printmakers. Originally active as an architect and architectural historian, he often trained his eye on architectural structures when making his prints. One of his most sought-after linocuts, for instance, is “The Tube Staircase,” a towering, spiraling image that simultaneously reminds one of modern and medieval engineering feats. Power brought his taste for dynamism to a series of monotypes depicting gasometer cages–the immense cylindrical superstructures within which natural gas storage tanks rise and fall.

Power’s linocuts are well known, but his monotypes are not even though he was prolific in this medium, which involves painting or drawing on a smooth surface and then printing the image onto a piece of paper. Accustomed to etching copper plates and cutting linoleum blocks, Power might have prepared his monotypes on either of these surfaces. The inscription “pinx et imp” reveals that Power thought of himself as painting and that he printed the images himself. He seldom, if ever, dated his monotypes; they appear to date from the 1930s. He found the medium suitable for cityscapes–both interior and exterior, but he also made still-lifes, animal studies, and portraits. In contrast to the bold, flat, often geometric areas of color that characterize his linocuts, his monotypes reveal a nervously active hand that breaks up line and form.

“Gasometers” features four looming structures that dwarf nearby pedestrians. Power created an ambiguous space that allows the gasometers to occupy enormous volume at one moment and to collapse into interlocking rings the next. The tank at right is half full, revealing its red skin as a patch of color within a dusky streetscape. The sky glows softly through swirling, sooty brushstrokes that we remind us of the coal dust that choked London in the early 20th Century. It is characteristic of Power to focus our attention on inhumanly large modern structures that overwhelm if not menace inhabitants of the modern city.

The gasometers are quite possibly the four that were built near Kings Cross Station by the Imperial Gas Light and Coke Company in 1880. They remained in use into the 1980s. Three have been destroyed, but one still stands and is a Grade II listed building.

Inscription

Lower left in graphite pencil: Gasometers
Signed lower right in graphite pencil: Cyril E. Power pinx et imp

Provenance

Sold, London, Christie's, 3 July 1992, part of lot 518; to Tom Rassieur (born 1957, St. Louis); his gift to the MFA, March 26, 2008.

Credit Line

Gift of Tom Rassieur in honor of Johanna and Leslie Garfield

Copyright

Courtesy EB Power & Osborne Samuel Ltd, London