Now that we’re allowed to take unlimited exercise outdoors, join me in admiring others doing just that, via works in public collections.
With members of your household and still complying with social distancing, let’s extend our Lockdown Daily Walk to a hike, as being enjoyed in Hiking of c.1936 by James Walker Tucker (1898-1972). Tucker was born in Wallsend, Northumberland and trained at Armstrong College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and at the Royal College of Art in London. He spent most of his career teaching at Gloucester City College of Art.
This painting epitomises government initiatives of the 1930s which encouraged people to make the most of the great outdoors. The health-giving properties of fresh air and sunlight were emphasised, as they are being now. Three emancipated young women, wearing shorts and bearing well-packed rucksacks, are seen planning their route amidst an idyllic rural setting. Their athleticism is emphasised by active poses with a focus on bare, muscular legs. Agreeable decision-making is underway, which may result if them heading into the fields stretching out in the background.
Tennis is amongst the sports we are allowed to resume, in time to make the most of lengthening hours of daylight. In The Tennis Player, Percy Shakespeare (1906-43) shows a woman waiting for her turn on court. He was born in Dudley and studied at the art schools of Dudley and Birmingham. A teaching career was cut short by service in World War Two and premature death during an air raid.
His modish sitter is wearing admirably laundered tennis whites, whilst loosely holding her racket across her lap and left-arm. Her expression is ambiguous, giving side-eye to something or someone off-canvas. She is young, fit, tanned and healthy and the artist’s gaze is unmistakeably directed up her skirt.
Sheer enjoyment in being outdoors is depicted in Les Eus, c.1913 by the Scottish Colourist John Duncan Fergusson (1874-1961). Born in Leith near Edinburgh, Fergusson was self-taught apart from sporadic attendance at the Académies Colarossi and Julian in Paris. He moved to the French capital in 1908, where he began this painting, which is widely recognised as his masterpiece.
Measuring a monumental 216 x 277cm, it shows a group of naked men and women dancing in an arbour (not necessarily recommended in your local park). Their splendid physicality is related to the fecundity of their surroundings, whilst the rhythm of their movement is emphasised by the voluptuousness of their bodies. The title roughly translates to ‘the healthy ones’, but perhaps a sub-title of ‘Release from Lockdown’ could now be added.
To round off a day of unlimited outdoor exercise, how about an evening swim in the sea, as in Teignmouth of 1957, by Douglas Lionel Mays (1900-91). Born in Kingston-upon-Thames and trained at Goldsmiths College in London, Mays is perhaps better known as an illustrator than as a painter.
This work was a commission for a British Railways poster, promoting travel destinations reachable by train. It shows a young man helping a female companion out of her wrap, as another runs towards the moonlit sea. Their eagerness sets the emotional pitch of the beach scene, partly illuminated by the string lights of the promenade on the right. Holiday pleasures are evoked, which can hopefully be experienced again in the not too distant future.