Adrian Stokes 1902–72: A retrospective

Serpentine South Gallery 8 Jun — 4 Jul 1982 Free

This was an extensive survey exhibition of Adrian Stokes’ oeuvre, including his paintings, writings, and a selection of documentation.

Stokes (1902-72) – not to be confused with painter Adrian Scott Stokes – was a British writer, art critic, and painter with interests in the Renaissance, Modernism, and psychoanalysis, among other topics. The show displayed over 125 of Stokes’ paintings, ranging from 1935 to 1972.

The documentary section of the exhibition had two main purposes. Firstly, to present an extensive selection of Stokes’ written work and suggest some of the links between this material and the paintings. First editions of many of Stokes’ published works were included, particularly those from the early stage of his career. There were also relevant manuscripts, including a notebook with a draft for Smooth and Rough from 1949, and two exercise books containing drafts of the late poems dating from 1968 and 1969. These manuscripts, with their erasures and interpolations, gave a particularly vivid impression of Stokes the writer at work.

The second main element in the display was a large group of photographs, mostly depicting architecture in Italy, which came from Stokes’ own photographic archive and were mostly used for the illustration of his critical and historical works. These were included because Stokes clearly worked from them, refreshing his memory and noting special characteristics in many of the prints. The most telling example is the set of illustrations for Venice (1945), which was probably Stokes’s only resource when the Second World War prevented him from visiting Italy for several years. In consequence, each photograph was given its own caption, and the visitor could learn a great deal about the acuteness of Stokes’s eye and his remarkable ability to translate his perceptions into vivid prose.

Finally, there was a biographical section, including a selection of photographs of Stokes and his family, accompanied by an interview.

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