Sunflowers in an Electric Light, 1956
signed and dated on reverse
oil on canvas
61 x 34 inches
157.2 x 88.8 cm
157.2 x 88.8 cm
Beaux Arts Gallery, 1956
DescriptionTo many, Edward Middleditch is inexorably linked with John Bratby, Derrick Greaves and Jack Smith, his three fellow artists in the quartet part-mockingly dubbed by David Sylvester in 1954 ‘The Kitchen Sink Painters’.
However, like the contemporary writers known as the ‘Angry Young Men’, it is unfair to each to gather their work together beyond an undoubted element of family likeness. With the exception of Bratby, the aspect of Social Realism propounded by John Berger does not last much beyond the 1956 Venice Biennale exhibition the four shared, and each, whilst retaining the undoubted flavour of their times, developed their own work in varied directions.
For Middleditch, his inspiration was found in nature, although the nature he chose to paint in his work of the 1950’s was the scruffy urban nature of pigeons in the street. Staying with Greaves and Smith in Sheffield in 1954-55, he painted a series of large-scale works of the weirs on the River Don, deep in the heart of the city’s industrial districts, dark, oily and forbidding, a far cry from the more tradition pastoral depictions of rivers in earlier painting. Similarly, his still life works of the period, such as Sunflowers in Electric Light, took very ordinary elements as their subject. Here a bunch of sunflowers is folded and dropped onto a bare window ledge with a cheap curtain by its side. The darkness of a city night leaks in through the window onto the spartan scene and a coal shovel in a zinc pail completes the ensemble. However, these unpromising elements are brought together with great panache and individuality, creating an image which is at first sight almost overpoweringly stark and which nevertheless exhibits painterly qualities that were much admired by contemporary commentators,
"what makes it the more impressive is vigorous draughtsmanship, an ability to use paint in a meaningful way, and a professionalism which is rare among young painters today... Edward Middleditch, ...is moved to wonderment by what he sees in nature ...(his) strength lies in his ability to get close to nature and to accept what he discovers without having to paraphrase or distort it"
This unflinching view of the everyday world is one which he shared with a number of contemporaries (one need only think of Lucien Freud’s Interior in Paddington of 1951 [Collection of The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool]) but which, unlike that of many painters of his generation, has a resonance in the work of the artists of today.
Sunflowers in Electric Light is a companion painting to Cow Parsley (Collection of The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) and uses the same compositional elements, although the present work adopts an upright format, perhaps more successfully echoing the strong upright element of the stool and bucket. Cow Parsley may be seen clearly in a period photograph of the 1956 Venice Biennale installation.