Adam's IMPORTANT IRISH ART 8th December 2021

116 89 COLIN MIDDLETON RHA RUA MBE (1910-1983) How Many Miles to London Town (1945/50) Oil on canvas 76 x 91.4cm (30 x 36”) Signed Inscribed with the oeuvre number ‘96’ in the artist’s hand verso Exhibited: Dublin, Victor Waddington Galleries, 1950; Belfast, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Colin Middleton Retrospective, 1976. € 30,000 - 50,000 This powerful painting has a suitably mysterious history, as it appears that Colin Middleton exhibited it under two different titles and with different dates. It was first shown at his second solo exhibition at the Victor Waddington Gallery, which took place in the autumn of 1950, under the title Candle-light , and Middleton recorded it as having been painted between April and June 1950. It was then included in Middleton’s extensive 1976 retrospective under the title How Many Miles to London Town , and given the date 1945. Obviously the two titles are related and perhaps Middleton subsequently considered that the earlier title did not make its reference sufficiently clear. The dating is intriguing; Middleton’s move away from the more highly-finished manner of working associated with his earlier surrealist and symbolist work was slow and methodical, but by 1945 he had already completed paintings such as The Refugee and Sirens over Belfast, both of which demonstrated a looser and more expressive manner of painting which must have increasingly seemed to him more appropriate and effective to take on the challenges of painting in the post-war world, with its stark recent history and complex psychological and spiritual territory. It is possible that Middleton began this canvas in 1945 and then returned to it in 1950 at a point when he had had evolved the confident and ambitious expressionist style that had brought immediate rec- ognition in Dublin. A number of paintings were abandoned and some left unfinished when Middleton left Belfast in 1947 to live in England. It is almost certainly the painting to which he referred in a letter to Waddington written in June 1950; ‘…yesterday the mood came upon me again and I have taken up a 30 x 36 commenced last April and abandoned’. While the title refers to a nursery rhyme, this is an undeniably serious painting which suggests a num- ber of overlapping ideas. The buildings in the lower right corner, illuminated by flames, recall the hor- rors of the Blitz and the general destruction of war, while the suggestion of a journey and the figures in the painting are connected with the recurring depiction in Middleton’s post-war work of displaced wandering figures and refugees. This painting recalls two other major works included in the same 1950 exhibition, Isaiah:54 and The Power and the Glory , both of which reflect the significance of the Old Testament in much of his work in the post-war years. The prophet-like head and the angel beside him recall William Blake, one of Mid- dleton’s enduring heroes, while the donkey emerging from flames, and its rider clothed in white, imply the presence of a powerful and enduring spiritual narrative presented within this more specific context of post-war Europe. The candle referred to in the nursery rhyme is placed centrally on the canvas; it lights the way for these journeying figures and from it also spring the flames that must have seemed so ambiguous at the time when this was painted, but which now carry a suggestion of redemption and salvation. The Dublin Magazine mentioned Candle-light in its review of the 1950 exhibition, while Daniel O’Neill wrote to Middleton that ‘To express the great depth of feeling and emotion I received on looking at the pictures in your show is quite impossible.’ Dickon Hall