On loan to: Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Edinburgh, UK)
Exhibition: True to Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s
Oil on canvas
622 x 915 (24 1/2 x 36)
Inscribed on back in pencil, 'M. D. BARKER', along top canvas return; in blue oil beneath white primer 'ROYAL COLLEGE OF ART, EXHIBITION ROAD SW7 | ROME SCHOLARSHIP [?EXHIBITION] [...]' t.l.; and in ink on fragment of NEAC label 'MARGARET D. [...] | 22 CASTLAN [...] | CATFORD - S[...] | "ANY MO[...]'
Chantrey Purchase from the artist 1929
New English Art Club, April 1929 (144)
The Chantrey Collection, Royal Academy Winter Exhibition, London, Jan.-March 1949 (236)
Within These Shores, Sheffield 1989 (12, repr. in col.)
Randolph Schwabe, 'Quarterly Notes', Artwork, vol. 7, no. 27, Autumn 1931, p.171
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, Tate Gallery: The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, I, London 1964, pp.24-5
In conversation with the compiler on 12 March 1996, Margaret Barker stated that "Any Morning" is a largely accurate representation of the interior of her family home at 22 Castlands Road in Catford, South London. It was there that the work was painted. She identified the larger figure in the red dress as a portrait of her mother, while the young girl on the right and the figure on the landing with her back to the viewer seemed to represent her elder sister at different ages. She believed that the fourth figure, half way down the stairs, was invented, though the frontality of its pose might lead one to suspect that it was based upon a self-portrait. The landscape seen through the window was also imaginary, representing, the artist suggested, an ideal setting for which she might have wished. Over the bed hangs a reproduction of Pieter de Hooch's The Courtyard of a House in Delft (1658) in the National Gallery, which the artist said she included because she liked the painting. She recalled that while at the RCA she used to visit the National Gallery, where she particularly admired the quieter paintings of the Dutch rather than more dramatic works. Barker appears deliberately to invoke The Courtyard of a House in Delft in the way that the open door in "Any Morning" echoes the archway in the de Hooch.
The paint of "Any Morning" was thinly applied over a ground which is white in the upper part of the composition and buff-coloured lower down. In certain parts there are a number of layers of pigment, most obviously in a slightly confused area to the left of the door where a darker patch has resulted from the artist's reworking of dry paint. Nevertheless, this may also be read as a damp patch on the wall. Though no underdrawing is visible, pencil marks on the tacking edges of the canvas would suggest that the composition was sketched out prior to painting. An examination of the reverse of the picture reveals that the paint layer continues approximately two inches over the top edge of the canvas. Earlier tack holes confirm that the work was painted on a larger stretcher and interrupted inscriptions on the wooden stretcher members indicate that the original stretcher was cut down. The restretching of the painting might explain a slight downward slope towards the left of the lines of the composition. An inscription under the thin coat of white primer on the reverse of the canvas suggests that "Any Morning" was entered for the Prix de Rome at the RCA. Margaret Barker confirmed that she had entered for the Rome Scholarship but could not be certain that this was the work submitted.1 The alterations to the support are explained by a letter from the artist to the Tate Gallery dated 4 November 1952 in which she recalled that she had not considered the painting a success and 'had turned the canvas ready for work on the back'. She went on, 'It was only under pressure from Professor Schwabe that it was sent in to the exhibition at the New English Art Club in 1929'.2
"Any Morning" was Barker's response to a title given by one of her tutors as an exercise, hence her inclusion of double inverted commas around the picture's title. In 1996 she remembered that such voluntary exercises were set every fortnight, the results being hung in the basement of the Victoria and Albert Museum for criticism by the teaching staff. It was presumably from such an occasion that Professor Schwabe knew the painting. That he admired Barker's work is also apparent from the short notice he gave her in his editorial column in the magazine Artwork in 1931.3 A reproduction of a lithograph in the same issue is the only other known surviving image by the artist who gave all of her later paintings away.4 Schwabe's description of her style suggests that "Any Morning" is not untypical of her work at that time. Discussing her 'unhackneyed attitude of mind', he wrote: 'She has a taste for subject-matter of an unusual kind, or rather she finds subjects in ordinary incidents of life which other artists would pass by'. This celebration of the every day was also characteristic of the work of Stanley Spencer, who enjoyed popularity during the 1920s and whose figure style, derived from early Italian painting, would also seem to have influenced Barker. Barker's retention of the double inverted commas in the picture's title suggests that the simple domestic scene has a particular symbolic significance. Such a suggestion is endorsed by the inscription over the arch in the de Hooch painting, which translates as: 'This is in Saint Jerome's vale, if you wish to repair to patience and meekness. For we must first descend if we wish to be raised.' Thus the mundane routine of domestic chores becomes symbolic of the humility necessary for redemption.
1 Margaret Barker, interview with the compiler, 12 March 1996
2 Margaret Barker, letter to Tate Gallery, 4 Nov. 1952, Tate Gallery catalogue files
3 [Randolph Schwabe], 'Quarterly Notes', Artwork, vol.7, no.27, 1931 p.171
4 Margaret Barker, untitled lithograph, whereabouts unknown, repr. Artwork, vol.7, no.27, 1931 p.209