A Stay at Home Tour

With the UK about to enter its eighth week of lockdown due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, join me for a tour of a ‘Stay at home’ house, via works in UK public collections.

Alberto Morrocco (1917-98), The Attic Bedroom, 1955, Dundee Leisure and Culture
© The Artist’s Estate

With all but keyworkers asked to ‘Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ by the UK government, we start our lockdown tour in the bedroom. Getting up, washed, dressed and breakfasted in time to get to school or the office by 9am now seems a distant memory and near on impossible feat. Alberto Morrocco portrays this more leisurely pace in The Attic Bedroom of 1955.

Born in Aberdeen to Italian parents, Morrocco studied at Gray’s School of Art in the city. In 1941 he married Vera Mercer who is seen from behind in the painting. She is shown arranging her hair with the aid of a mirror which stands on a chest of drawers. The open door leads the viewer’s gaze into this intimate scene, from doorknob over corner of the bed and up to bare light-bulb in the ceiling. The palette is of subtle blues, greys and lilacs, the technique is gentle and the light – coming from awindow hidden from sight – is soft.

Harold Harvey (1874-1941), A Kitchen Interior, c.1918,
Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove

Our next stop is in the kitchen, traditionally the heart of a home but especially so now, when it is doubling as an office or a home school classroom or both for many of us. Harold Harvey captures this multiple use in his A Kitchen Interior of about 1918.

Born in Penzance, Harvey was home schooled himself, before training to be an artist in Paris. A woman is seen perched on a step-ladder whilst stringing up laundry to dry inside, perhaps not having access to a garden and external washing-line, the lack of which is keenly felt at the moment. She is observed by a girl leaning against a table, poised to pass up the next item when required, which is within easy reach of her in the right foreground. Both figures focus on the task at hand, comfortable companions sharing household chores. Stacks of plates, hanging cups and other crockery items surround them, referringto the cooking and consuming of meals in this room throughout the day.

F. C. B. Cadell (1883-1937), Interior: The Orange Blind, c.1927, Glasgow Life

Lockdown leisure time is mainly spent in the sitting-room, a fine example of which can be seen in the Scottish Colourist F. C. B. Cadell’s Interior: The Orange Blind of about 1927.

Born in Edinburgh and trained in Paris, Cadell moved to 6 Ainslie Place in the Scottish capital’s New Town in 1920. The stylish decoration of his home, which spread over four floors and the lifestyle it embodied, became the subject of a remarkable series of interiors painted during the 1920s.

This painting is set in Cadell’s magnificent ground floor accommodation, with front and back rooms linked by folding doors. His elegant model sits on a chaise-longue, in front of which a table is set for four to take tea. A gentleman plays a grand piano in the background and the afternoon sun is diffused by the blind of the work’s title. There is not a dressing-gown nor an xbox to be seen.

Dorothy Johnstone (1892-1980), Black and Yellow, 1920, Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums
© The Artist’s Estate

Most ‘stay at home’ evenings end in the bathroom, where those living with others may gain some rare lockdown privacy. Dorothy Johnstone depicts the unself-conscious nudity involved with daily ablutions in Black and Yellow of 1920.

Born in Edinburgh and trained at Edinburgh College of Art, Johnstone joined the teaching staff in 1914 due to the mobilisation of male colleagues to serve in World War One. The female figure obscures the tin bath placed on a stool in front of the open window, whilst a pitcher of water stands ready beside her feet. The composition is held together with areas of blue and white checked material, a pattern echoed in that of the window glazing, while the pictorial framework is completed with blocks of bold yellow in the corner shelves, left-hand table and rug. The woman is unaware of, or unconcerned about, our presence as she concentrates on something hidden from our view.

Thus concludes our ‘Stay at home’ tour before we return to our bedrooms for the night and the cycle of lockdown life begins once more. For how much longer, we do not know.


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