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Sir Terry Frost - Through whites

Sir Terry Frost

Through whites

Oil on canvas: 30.1(h) x 34.3(w) in / 76.5(h) x 87(w) cm
Signed, dated and inscribed on the overlap: Through whites May 77 / Sept Oct Nov 79 / Frost; signed and dated again on the reverse: Frost Nov 79

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 Leamington Spa 1915 - 2003 Cornwall

Ref: BZ 196


Through whites


Signed, dated and inscribed on the overlap:

Through whites May 77 / Sept Oct Nov 79 / Frost;

signed and dated again on the reverse: Frost Nov 79

Oil on canvas: 30 ⅛ x 34 ¼ in / 76.5 x 87 cm

Frame Size: 32 x 36 in / 81.3 x 91.4 cm





Sotheby’s London, 8th March 1995, lot 272;

Private collection, UK

Private collection, UK



Frost had always been interested in the emotive power of colour and from the late 1960s, explored the range within a single hue and its subjective perception. ‘He described how, in the late 1960s, he asked his students to investigate the boundaries of colour by mixing different blacks. They used red, yellow and blue, gradually increasing the amount of one colour until it ‘broke’ through, then following the same process with each of the others. He then told them to identify the colour they considered to be ‘mid-black’; the result was, he said, ‘the greatest lesson of my life, when we put them up there wasn’t one like the other. Now this means that colour is totally subjective.’ Frost did the same thing, taking six large canvases, dividing them up into fifteen-by-nine-inch blocks, and painting each section a different black. He then cut out rough semicircles from each and collaged those onto a larger canvas (Through blacks, 1969, Tate). The result is a composition in which red-blacks, green-blacks and blue-blacks harmonise and contrast with each other, and in which the ground and space between them becomes an active component. Over several years he made a number of these, a second Through blacks, and Through yellows, Reds, Blues and Greys.’[1]


Frost continued the series with the present work, a beautifully nuanced composition of 6 x 6 squares, each containing 4 freely painted semicircles which explore the luminous, almost iridescent hues of white tinted yellow, blue and red, and Through whites, 1981, in the collection of the Artist’s Estate. Chris Stephens writes, ‘In an echo of the 1950s, these were inspired by a visit to Canada, during which Frost drove through a blizzard so severe that the car seemed entirely engulfed by white.’[2] David Lewis recalls Frost made two teaching trips to Canada to visit Eric (Ricky) Atkinson, with whom Frost had taught at Leeds College of Art before he emigrated to Canada in 1969 to become head of the Art Department at Fanshaw College in London, Ontario. Driving through a snowstorm between London and Toronto ‘the car was enclosed in a swirling soft cocoon of white’ which led to ‘the series of paintings referred to as ‘Through whites’ and ‘White outs’ – the Canadian term for wind-driven blizzards: ‘I would never have done such a white painting if I hadn’t got into a “white out” in Canada.’[3] Lewis suggests these paintings ‘incorporate many experiences simultaneously, the looping, swirling movements of line and textures of wind-swirls, but also the boat movements of earlier paintings, and even the movement of bodies trudging through the snow and plunging downhill head first on toboggans.’[4]







Terry Frost, Through blacks, 1969

Acrylic and canvas collage on canvas:

78 x 102 in / 198 x 259 cm







Terence Ernest Manitou Frost was born into on 13th October 1915 in Leamington Spa.  Brought up by his grandparents, Frost was educated at Rugby Road School before attending Leamington Spa Central School from 11 to 14 years of age.  After leaving school in 1930 he worked in various jobs.  From 1932 to 1939, having joined the Territorial Army, he worked at Armstrong Whitworth in Coventry painting the wings of fighter planes and bombers.  He was called up with the Army Reserve in 1939 and served in France, Palestine and Lebanon.  After joining the Commandos he fought in Crete, where he was captured in 1941.  As a prisoner of war he was interned in camps in Salonika and Poland, ending up in Stalag 383 in Bavaria.  Encouraged by the young artist Adrian Heath, Frost began to draw and paint portraits of his fellow POWs.  


Following his return to Britain in 1945, Frost married Kathleen May Clarke and attended evening classes at Birmingham Art College.  In 1946 he moved with his wife and child to Cornwall where they lived in a caravan before moving into a house in Quay Street, St Ives.  At the suggestion of Adrian Heath he studied at Leonard Fuller’s St Ives School of Painting.  From 1947 to 1950 Frost studied at Camberwell School of Art on an ex-serviceman’s grant.  While attending traditional life classes with William Coldstream, Frost was strongly influenced by the advice and work of Victor Pasmore, who urged him to skip life class in order to spend time looking at paintings in the National Gallery.  With Pasmore’s guidance, he produced his first abstract painting in 1949 based on the poem Madrigal by W.H. Auden. 


In 1950 Frost worked as an assistant to Barbara Hepworth on her sculpture for the Festival of Britain, Contrapuntal Forms.  He taught a life drawing class at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham

from 1952-4, where William Scott was head of painting and where Heath, Wynter and Lanyon also taught.  In 1954 Frost was awarded a Gregory Fellowship at Leeds University and moved his family there while teaching at the Leeds School of Art until 1957.  In 1960 he visited America for the first time and through the critic Clement Greenberg he met some of the leading U.S. painters of the day including Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell.  In 1962 Frost and his family moved to Banbury and he taught part-time at Coventry Art College.  He was made Artist in Residence at the Fine Art department of Newcastle University in 1964, became a full time lecturer at Reading University in 1965 and went on to become Professor of Painting there from 1977 to 1981.  Frost moved to Newlyn, Cornwall in 1974.  He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1992 and was knighted in 1998. 



[1] Chris Stephens, Terry Frost, St Ives Artists, Tate Publishing, London, 2000, pp.61-62.

[2] Ibid., p.62

[3] David Lewis, Terry Frost, Lund Humphries, Aldershot, 2000, p.133.

[4] Ibid., p.133.

Other Works By
Sir Terry Frost:

Sir Terry Frost - Manitou