Talks

Art in Context | Picturing Pollution: “Midland Landscape, 1958” by Prunella Clough

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About this program

In Prunella Clough’s painting Midland Landscape, 1958, subterranean matter threatens to overwhelm the landscape. A dark ground of loose black oil paint rises up the composition and nearly engulfs it. Above the hazy horizon line, obscure shapes without a clear infrastructural function stand out against a mottled cream background. The viewer is lost in a wasteland of industrial decay. 

From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the British Midlands were a center of industrial production and, consequently, a nexus of anxiety about pollution. Slag heaps (piles of extractive waste) accumulated around coal mines and large factories belched out pervasive black smoke. Painter Prunella Clough, who lived and worked in London, was an unlikely visitor to these industrial sites. Yet it was here, in polluted landscapes that she referred to as “unconsidered,” that she experimented with abstraction. Paintings such as Midland Landscape precipitate an encounter between the anthropogenic waste that encroached on the visible landscape and the abstract idiom of postwar British painting. 

This talk will put Midland Landscape, 1958, into dialogue with a history of images of pollution in British art to ask: How does pollution assert itself in the image? How do these works trouble our definitions of landscape and natural material, or of wastelands and manufactured material? How have artists adopted polluted forms as visual tools? 

About Tobah Aukland-Peck

Tobah Aukland-Peck is a PhD candidate in art history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a residential scholar at the Yale Center for British Art. Her research on British nineteenth- and twentieth-century art investigates themes of environmental change and pollution, the industrial provenance of artistic materials, and the integration of working-class perspectives in the visual arts. She has published essays on related topics in Grey Room and with Courtauld Books Online. Her dissertation, “Mineral Landscapes: British Art and Extraction, 1937–1975,” addresses artistic encounters with extractive sites in diverse media and, in doing so, proposes a relationship between the subject matter of mining and the abstract experiments of British modernism and postwar art. 

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Art in Context

Presented by faculty, staff, Student Guides, and Visiting Scholars, these talks focus on a particular work of art—often in the museum’s collections or special exhibitions—through an in-depth look at its style, subject matter, technique, or time period.

Top image
Prunella Clough, Midland Landscape, 1958, 1958, oil on board, Yale Center for British Art, Gift of the Libra Foundation, from the family of Nicholas and Susan Pritzker © 2024 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / DACS, London