Bernard Adeney

Toy Sailing Boats, the Round Pond


Not on display

Bernard Adeney 1878–1966
Tempera on canvas
Support: 2276 × 3048 mm
Purchased 1931

Catalogue entry

Not inscribed.
Casein or wax medium on canvas (two strips of unequal width joined vertically), 89 1/4×120 (227×305).
Purchased from the Borough Polytechnic (Clarke Fund) 1931.
Coll: Commissioned by the Borough Polytechnic House Committee in 1911, and taken down in 1929 to be offered on sale or loan to various institutions or museums. Acquired for a nominal sum by the Tate Gallery 1931.
Lit: Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, A Biography, 1940, pp.172–4, where she erroneously speaks of the murals as destroyed; John Rothenstein, Modern English Painters: Lewis to Moore, 1956, p.51 and note.

One of a series of seven decorations representing the pleasures of London, or ‘London on Holiday’, painted in 1911 for the students' dining-room at the Borough Polytechnic under the direction of Roger Fry, whose friend Basil Williams, Chairman of the House Committee, had originated the idea. The subject originally considered was ‘Getting the Food’.

Williams's intention was to show how halls and refectories could be made attractive at comparatively low cost, and at Fry's suggestion the paintings were made in a casein or wax medium on canvas so that they could be removed in the event of rebuilding. The total cost to the authorities was about £100. The room was demolished in 1929 but the murals were not transferred to another site in the building. They are all now at the Tate Gallery and comprise

Roger Fry's ‘The Zoo’ (N04571, a fragment), Frederick Etchells's ‘The Fair’ (N04572, a fragment), Duncan Grant's ‘Football’ and ‘Bathing’ (N04566 and N04567), Macdonald [Max] Gill's ‘Punch and Judy’ (N04570) and Albert Rutherston's ‘Paddlers’ (N04569).

Bernard Adeney recalled (letters of 31 December 1953 and 17 January 1954) that the scheme of decoration followed this order: from left to right across the first long wall came Fry's ‘Zoo’, Adeney's ‘Toy Sailing Boats’ and Grant's ‘Football’; at the top end of the hall was Etchells's ‘The Fair’; and on the return long wall were Rutherston's ‘Paddlers’, Grant's ‘Bathing’ and Gill's ‘Punch and Judy’. Each mural was surrounded by a diaper design.

Fry, Grant, Etchells and Adeney, who began the paintings in the summer vacation of 1911, afterwards invited Gill and Rutherston to contribute a panel each, and the scheme was completed by the autumn of that year. They decided to employ the technique of gradating the colour tones to a dark contour to increase the rhythm of the design, as in Byzantine mosaics.

When finished the murals were adversely criticized by staff and students, who considered them lugubrious, although Lewis Hind, then writing for the News Chronicle, did his best to publicize them as one of the first fruits of the exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists of November 1910–January 1911. Virginia Woolf (op. cit., p.173) records that a debate was held at the Polytechnic soon after the murals were finished, which Fry was asked to open. He believed that he had converted his audience to his view of the function of art in the modern State.

Bernard Adeney referred to his painting as ‘The Round Pond’, i.e. the Round Pond, Kensington Gardens, London.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I

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