Simple Pleasures

Join me in celebrating some of the Simple Pleasures that many of us are able to enjoy whilst living under lockdown, via works in public collections.

Dod Procter (1892-1972), Early Morning, 1927, Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove (c) The Artist’s Estate

What with working from home or being on furlough leave, millions of us are not having to face a daily commute. This means alarm clocks are out and lie-ins are in, as depicted in Early Morning of 1927 by Dod Proctor (1892-1972). Proctor was born in London and studied at Newlyn School of Painting and the Académie Colarossi in Paris. Although formally named Doris, she was always known as ‘Dod’ and took her husband Ernst Proctor’s surname on their marriage in 1912.

Early Morning captures the luxurious feeling of not having to get out of bed in a rush. The women’s languorous, full-length pose reads from right to left, from her head nestled in pillows to her right big toe just touching the bed cover. The folding, draping, creasing and form-revealing properties of fabric are rejoiced in throughout. Plumps pillows, the sitter’s shapely figure and the crumpled bedclothes create a sensuality at odds with the gentle light and restrained palette of greys and browns. What we see looks like an ideal start to the day.

Adrian Paul Allinson (1890-1959), Girl Reading, 1933, University of Hull Art Collection
(c) The Artist’s Estate

Whilst lockdown has made many of our usual pursuits impossible, things we normally long to have the time to do can now be done. For example, that pile of books which has been growing at our bedside can finally be read, as we see in Girl Reading of 1933 by Adrian Paul Allinson. Born in London, Allinson studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in the English capital before working in theatre design and illustration. He was also prolific in painting, sculpting and engraving.

Girl Reading is painted from a high viewpoint which allows us to see the pages of the book which the subject views through lowered eye-lids. Fields of blue, yellow and red dominant the image. Visual interest is strong throughout, from the woman’s hat, to her clasped hands, to the cropped book in the foreground. Dramatic lighting from the right highlights her skin and casts the far side of her body into shadow. She seems more taken with posing than with reading.

Kenneth Forbes (1892-1980), The Earring, 1924, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
(c) The Artist’s Estate

Being able to live at a more leisurely pace means we can be unusually laidback as we go about our day, such as when getting dressed. A sense of this is captured in The Earring of 1924 by Kenneth Forbes (1892-1980). Although born in Toronto, he trained in the UK including at the Slade and Hospitalfield in Arbroath.

The Earring is a combination of front and back views of the female sitter, with prominence given to the latter. The strong horizontals and verticals of the red chair are echoed in the gold stripes of the woman’s jacket. The reflection of the right-hand strut and the matching red of her shoe heels lead the eye over the canvas. The skirt of her lavish evening-gown spills over her lap on to the floor, a hint of its bodice visible in the mirror. Complementary passages seen from two viewpoints, as the titular earring is put on, focus on the inter-play of fingers and hair which render the piece of jewellery invisible. Texture is emphasised, from the wicker of the chair seat, to the fur cuffs of her jacket, as the sitter nears completion of her outfit.

Mark Gertler (1891-1939), Supper (Natalie Denny), 1928, National Portrait Gallery, London

Gently expanding waistlines show how we are enjoying the preparation and consumption of food during lockdown. Where mealtimes were once rushed affairs, now they can be allowed to occupy the evening, as conveyed in Supper (Natalie Denny) of 1928 by Mark Gertler (1891-1939). The child of Polish refugees, Gertler also studied at the Slade and became associated with the Bloomsbury Group. He met the artist and collector Natalie Denny (1909-2007) at a New Year’s Party held by Augustus John in 1927. She was eighteen-years old and Gertler immediately asked her to sit for him.

Supper (Natalie Denny) is at first sight a scene of opulence, from the generous blooms of the background, to those in a vase on the table, to the basket full of ripe fruit in the foreground. Denny’s relaxed pose emphasises her bare skin, whilst items such as the wine glass and coffee cup suggest a sumptuous meal. In fact, the ‘fur’ draped over her shoulders was a blanket, the ‘linen’ tablecloth was a tea towel and she is wearing a slip rather than a gown. Despite all this, the atmosphere is one of contentment towards the end of the day.

May we appreciate the simple pleasures of life during lockdown whilst they are still available to us.

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