Stanislawa De Karlowska

Fried Fish Shop

c.1907

On display at Tate Britain

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 337 x 394 mm
frame: 440 x 496 x 72 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the artist's family 1954
Reference
N06238

Display caption

De Karloswka’s art was based on her native Polish tradition and on her training at the Académie Julien in Paris. She came to Britain in 1897 after marrying an English artist, Robert Bevan, and joined the circle of people who were trying to modernise British art. In this painting de Karlowska takes the kind of subject that progressive British artists were exploring, and invests it with a poetical quality associated with French intimiste artists such as Edouard Vuillard. Enigmatic figures bustle out of the shadows into the welcoming light, giving everyday city life an air of mystery.

Gallery label, February 2016

Catalogue entry

Entry

Shops selling fried fish and chips were to be found in large numbers in London by the date this picture was made (fig.1). This kind of food was characterised as a staple of working class diet, although in many cases it was in fact a more occasional luxury. It was extremely popular, and at this time considered highly nourishing. However, the noxious odours given off by the poor quality oils frequently used for frying led to numerous prosecutions for public nuisance in the early years of the century. Fried fish shops were viewed with disdain by the middle classes, both for their smell and their popular working class ethos. In the Public Health Act of 1907 – the same date as this picture – fried fish shops were specifically designated an ‘offensive trade’, and fryers came under strong pressure to use better quality oils and hoods to collect the fumes.1
Ernest Milner 'London Transport photograph of D. Calver, Fish Supper Bar, 28 Camden High Street' 1 April 1904
Fig.1
Ernest Milner
London Transport photograph of D. Calver, Fish Supper Bar, 28 Camden High Street 1 April 1904
Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre
Photo © Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre
Walter Richard Sickert 'The Red Shop (The October Sun)' c.1888
Fig.2
Walter Richard Sickert
The Red Shop (The October Sun) c.1888
Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
© Estate of Walter R. Sickert / DACS 2010
Photo © Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery

Karlowska painted a related shop subject in 1914, The Wine Shop (private collection).2 This shows a shop interior, but has a very similar composition and approach in distributing the figures across the span of the picture. It is painted in a more adventurous palette, principally of red and green. Comparison might be drawn with Walter Sickert’s small number of much earlier and very different paintings of French shop fronts made in the late 1880s such as The Red Shop (fig.2). These are more conventionally impressionist in style, and do not include figures, but in some degree are similar in intent. Karlowska’s focus in Fried Fish Shop lies principally in the figures rather than the shop which, apart from its counter, is almost without feature. There is a strong sense of London life glimpsed in passing, a snapshot of working class experience from the vantage of the pavement. The picture is also an exercise in capturing the fall of yellow gaslight through the shop window, penetrating the gloom of the street.

Robert Upstone
May 2009

Notes

1
Information drawn from John K. Walton, Fish and Chips and the British Working Class, 1870–1940, Leicester 1992, a detailed social and economic history of the industry.
2
Reproduced in Twentieth Century British Art, Christie’s South Kensington, 13 July 2000 (47).
3
Huntly Carter, ‘Art’, New Age, 10 March 1910, p.452.
4
Huntly Carter, ‘Art’, New Age, 16 March 1911, pp.474–5.
5
Frank Rutter, ‘Round the Galleries’, Sunday Times, 19 March 1911, p.5.

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