Now that the UK government has announced its conditional strategy to re-open society in England, join me in making post-lockdown plans via works in public collections.
The first place to which many of us will go, once it is safe to do so, is to the hairdresser or the barber. With hair – let alone grey roots – having been untamed since late March we are all looking more hirsute than usual, except for those who bravely opted for a ‘lockdown buzzcut’. Girl Combing Hair of about 1931 by Harold Knight (1874-1961) shows a moment of calm personal care, perfecting a hairstyle the likes of which we will be demanding once in our favoured salon. Knight trained at Nottingham School of Art and at the Académie Julian in Paris. In this painting, the sitter is seen from an oblique angle, with light from the window at the side highlighting the auburn tones of her wavy hair. The window itself is visible in the mirror, intersected by reflections of its frame and the women’s raised arm; the mirroring of the resultant triangle in her pose is a clever conceit. The canvas is dominated by the use of black amidst muted tones, with the composition held together by the blue highlights of the curtain and draped scarf.
The next place which is likely to prove popular after lockdown are clothes shops, as we fling aside the jeans, tracksuit bottoms and dressing-gowns which we have worn day-in, day-out and buy new garments so that we can dress up for the first time in months. A Visit to Town by Maurice Greiffenhagen (1862-1931) was a commission for a poster for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. Greiffenhagen was born in London and trained at the Royal Academy Schools in the English capital. In 1906 he was appointed Professor of the Life Classes at Glasgow School of Art, in which post he remained until 1929. In this work, a smart couple are attended to in a fashion salon, their interchange captured in the mirror behind them. No attention is being paid to the model striking an extravagant pose in order to show off an elaborate evening outfit, shown to great effect against a red background.
Next stop and attired in our new finery, is to a café with friends, to socialise those outside our household and to eat food which we have not had to prepare ourselves. Such a scene is captured by Mabel Frances Layng (1881-1937) in her The Café of 1925. Layng was born in Macclesfield and studied at St John’s Wood Art School and the London School of Art between 1902 and 1908. Women wearing cloche hats are accompanied by bare-headed men, seen in amiable conversation and easy company. The foreground is dominated by a woman seen from behind. With her female companion, she reduces our view of the gentleman in the background to that of his forehead alone. Black is used to provide fixed points within the composition, not least in the champagne bottle at the centre left, showing that the diners, like we will be, are celebrating.
Finally and most importantly, we will head to our local art gallery, to feast our eyes on real art after a lockdown diet of the digital version. William Patrick Roberts’ The Art Gallery of 1973 shows people of all ages enjoying themselves in one such location. Roberts was born in London and studied at the nearby Slade School of Fine Art. He established an avant-garde reputation before World War One and called himself an ‘English Cubist’. This late work is populated by his characteristic tubular figures, with multiple interactions occurring between them at once, all depicted with a keen eye for social observation. Although not a single person clustered on and around the seats is looking at the art hung on the wall beside them, their joy in being together in a gallery is something to look forward to post-lockdown.
For now however, in Scotland at least, we must continue to Stay at Home, Protect the NHS and Save Lives. It won’t be forever.