John Bratby
The Toilet 1955

Artwork details

John Bratby 1928–1992
The Toilet
Date 1955
Medium Oil paint on hardboard
Dimensions Support: 1171 x 872 mm
Acquisition Purchased 1993
Not on display


Described by Sir John Rothenstein, Director of the Tate Gallery (1938-64), as 'expressive of his tough, larger-and-uglier than life view of his intimate environment' (quoted in John Bratby, exhibition catalogue, French and Company, New York 1958,pp.1-2), and by the art critic David Sylvester as 'Kitchen Sink', Bratby's realist paintings of the mid 1950s were considered to be a radical departure from the Modernism of the pre-Second World War era and the pastoral Neo-Romanticism of the war period. Retrospectively, Bratby himself stated that the realist paintings of the 1950s expressed the decade's 'Zeitgeist - introvert, grim, Khaki in colour, often opposed to prettiness, and dedicated to portraying a stark, raw, ugly reality' (quoted in The Forgotten Fifties, p.46).

The mundane, domestic subject matter of The Toilet is typical of the realism which characterised Bratby's work during the period. The distorted perspective is used to afford a direct view of the cistern, chain and pipework as well as the stained inside of the bowl. The high position of the cistern in relation to the toilet pan was a common design in the period. The formal clarity of the composition and the muscular handling of thick paint led the critic David Sylvester to compare Bratby's style with that of Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90). However, the lurid palette of browns, yellows and whites was specifically associated with the Kitchen Sink painters. In the stringent economic circumstances of the period, the relative cost of different colours was a significant factor in determining the chromatic range of artists who worked on large canvases and who applied paint thickly. According to Bratby they also conveyed 'the colour and mood of ration books - the general feeling of sackcloth and ashes after the war' (quoted in The Forgotten Fifties, p.14).

The toilet was located in Bratby's flat at Elm Park Gardens in Chelsea, London. At least one other painting of this subject matter was made by Bratby in the mid 1950s, though it is reported that his dealer at the time, Helen Lessore, Director of Beaux Art Gallery, was not enthusiastic about them.

Further reading:
The Forgotten Fifties, exhibition catalogue, Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield 1984

Toby Treves
September 2000