Nevill Johnson RHA RUA (1911-1999)
No Vile Men (1956) oil on board signed lower centre left
37 x 71¾cm (14.6 x 28.2in)
Combridge Fine Art, Dublin (framing label verso); Collection of Professor Eoin O'Brien Irish Exhibition of Living Art 1956 (label verso); Nevill Johnson 'Paint the Smell of Grass' by Dickon Hall & Eoin O'Brien, Ava Gallery 2008; illustrated page 55 In this quasi-abstract painting-one of Johnson's best-the composition, based on a landscape, is dominated by an horizon of black hills, above which hover grey clouds. The landscape itself, a bleak monochrome expanse, appears to contain fragmentary remains of buildings but is otherwise uninhabited: this might well be a vision of the world after a nuclear war. In 1956, the year this painting was exhibited at the Irish Exhibition of Living Art, the Cold War was at its height; in October the Hungarian revolt against Soviet rule was crushed while in the Middle East, the Suez Crisis dominated the headlines. Nuclear annihilation was an ever-present threat, and Johnson captures the spirit of the times in this painting, with its expressive title No Vile Men. The origins of the title are not clear; but the phrase reﬂects Johnson's humanist philosophy, and his bleak view of the world's political leaders
No Vile Men reveals the inﬂuence of artists such as Paul Nash and Ben Nicholson, but is also a highly-personal work, inspired by Johnson's own thoughts on life and his worries about the future of the world. Johnson is represented in the major galleries and museums in Ireland, as well as the OPW and Arts Council collections. A label on the back of this work conﬁrms it was painted in 1956, while Johnson was living in Convent Place, Hatch Street, Dublin, and that it was exhibited at the IELA that year. The use of hardboard, or Masonite, was popular amongst artists at the time, not least due to the expense of linen canvas.
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