Oil on canvas
41.5 x 56 cm (16 x 22 in)
be the second person from the right in the audience along wth his other
friends from the Royal
Roger Fry is standing on stage holding a dead cat  -- symbolizing pure
Clive Bell, who rings the bell, calls out the new
mantra "Cézannah, Cézannah." to an unimpressed audience of
Clive Bell had coined this idea of "Significant Form" to describe an
emotional response a viewer might have to a piece of art should solely
be the result of the artistic form -- such as its color, or how the
lines are drawn; and that this "response" is to be considered the only true aesthetic response to any piece
Responses from representational art (such as a pretty landscape for
example) are therefore corrupted by people’s feelings and emotions
regarding what the painting is representing and memories
and associations are superimpose upon the artwork corrupting the
response and therefore is not about the
art itself – the actual brushworks of the paint, the choice of color,
etc. Those feelings and emotions, although valid, are not, in Clive
Bells opinion, aesthetic responses.
In 1914 Clive wrote a very important book called "Art" in which he
strongly advocated abstract art. This wold all play out in what is also
known as formalism.
Roger Fry had put together an exhibition at the Grafton Gallery
which championed lesser known (at the time) impressionists what is now known as the
Post-Impressionists which included Cézanne.
Fry and the Post Impressionists
This debate between representational art and abstract art raged
intensely during this time and Tonks had distributed this drawing among
his friends who all thought Clive and Roger nuts.
of this image is "The Impressionist and their Legacy"; p.649, Edited by
Martha Kapos, Barnes & Noble Books; 1995; by arrangement with Hugh
Lauter Levin Associates ISBN: 1-56619-917-4
1) "The Impressionist and their
Legacy" identify the object Fry is holding as a dead cat
From: Uwe Rasch
r as firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Mar 7, 2006
I wrote to you a few weeks ago with regard to the Henry Tonks drawing
"The unknown God". Your text [above] claims that Roger Fry is holding
up a dead cat. Is this your own description or did you find this
somwhere else. As I said, we are at the moment editing an article by
Aldous Huxley from 1923, where he describes the painting himself [ . .
. as] Fry holding a "nigger-cum-cubist" sculpture. He also speaks of "a
small oil-painting", whereas the reproduction on your pages looks like
Would you have any clues to clear up these discrepancies or is there
maybe a source where Tonks's Unknown God is discussed. It is quite
possible that two or more versions exists, as artists sometimes produce
paintings and prints on the same subject. On the other hand, there
could be a misunderstanding because the only extant reproduction of the
work may be your b/w reproduction (of,
possibly, a painting) mistaken for a drawing?
I'd be very grateful for any help to answer those questions.
(Aldous Huxley Centre)
I'm afraid I got the identification of a "dead cat"
from "The Impressionist and their Legacy" and I have just corrected my
oversight and credited my source.
The rest of the body of the text are my words from many sources on
Significant Form and Clive Bell.
I must admit that it doesn't look much like a cat either and now after
reading your letter I guess I see why the editor of the above mentioned
source called it a "cat." The term "nigger-cum-cubist" is so racist and
inflaming to today's ears that it clouds the whole meaning. But since
it is a cubist something-or-other, you could almost call it anything --
and I think that's the intent.
As to the medium of the artwork. Again I'm afraid I had made an
assumption it was a drawing and not a painting and I'm afraid I don't
know if there were multiple copies or where the original is today.
Thanks for keeping me on my toes
From: Uwe Rasch
r as email@example.com
Date: Mar 8, 2006
for your instant reply. The label "nigger-cum-cubist" is probably
and reflects the (pre-E.Said) style of the 20s. But to my mind,
Huxley's perception: the object held by "Fry" looks like a
primitivist/cubist sculpture (I tried hard to identify anything near a
cat, the best I could come up with was a fish...): a female - negroid -
figure, long legs, hollow back, and protuding buttocks, is what I, and
Huxley, come up with. Do you know, whether the "dead cat"
identification is a contemporary (1920s) identification or whether it
is something the authors of "The Impressionists and Their Legacy"
From your reply I take it that you called "The Unknown God" a drawing;
or is this also the designation given in the source you took the image
Anyway, I thank you very much indeed for your help,
Mar 21, 2006
I found another reference that might be of interest to you in this
"The Unknown God, Roger Fry Preaching the New Faith, Clive Bell Ringing
the Bell, Oil on canvas, 41.5 x 56 cm (16 x 22 in)
"Full provenance, exhibiting history and ..." This is came up when
googled at this site grosvenor-antiquesfair.co.uk
but the page could not be retrieved. So I suppose the painting's been
auctioned off by the Gosvernor Antiques Fair. At least this small
google catch-line seems to affirm that it's actually a painting, and it
tells you the
size. Good, isn't it? If you wish, I could also send you the quotation
from the Huxley essay. Maybe you'd like to put it on the page. Yours,
Yes, I'd love it.