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- Bande dessinée
Still comparatively unsung among the British modern painters, the late Albert Herbert always dealt in that trickiest of artistic qualities, enchantment. The danger of enchantment is that it can quickly cloy, but Herbert’s version of it never did. His exquisite balancing of the areas in the painting, a poise which would be convincing even if the pictures were abstracts, depends on an infallible sense of colour. Early on, it was clear that a French tradition which includes Bonnard and Vuillard had somehow got into his head, even though he himself thought that his chief early French influences were the surrealists.
But pagan sensuality was never the aim or the result of his work. The last man left alive in his unit that landed in Normandy, he came back from the war with a religious vision. At the Royal College of Art he learned from Francis Bacon that a painter should work from feeling and not give the picture a title until it was finished. Herbert’s feelings, however, were religious, and anyone with a Bible education will soon spot the time-honoured consistency of his themes, especially in his later career, which can be called one blessedly long culmination. A particularly interesting later development was a deliberate return to a childlike standard of graphic registration: or what would have appeared to be so, if the execution had not been so eloquently informed by a lifetime of painterly evolution.
His time-honoured themes went on yielding images that were completely new, and they still worked equally well for non-believers: even better perhaps, for reminding them that there is such a thing as exaltation. This transcendental quality can be felt even in his non-religious pictures, some of which are included in this small selection from a hearteningly productive life’s work. I am grateful to Cécile Menon and the England & Co gallery for introducing me to the challengingly beautiful work of an artist who exemplifies the identity of dedication and devotion. Albert Herbert died in May 2008: we were very glad to have got this section running in time for him to see it, and approve of it, before his death.