John Bratby

Still Life with Chip Frier


Not on display

John Bratby 1928–1992
Oil paint on hardboard
Support: 1314 × 921 mm
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1956

Display caption

This archetypal social realist picture is a modern still life. In place of the abundant natural produce traditionally found in still lifes, Bratby presents the modern kitchen with all its contraptions and processed foodstuffs. The bright colours and thick, clotted paint give these everyday objects an emphatic physical presence which verges on the three-dimensional.

The critic David Sylvester famously dismissed such pictures of domestic interiors as ‘kitchen sink’ painting. The label has also been applied to work by Derrick Greaves, Edward Middleditch, Jack Smith, and to a certain extent Peter Coker.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Not inscribed.
Oil on hardboard, 51 3/4×36 1/4 (131·5×92).
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1956.
Coll: Purchased by the C.A.S. from the Beaux Arts Gallery 1954.
Exh: Beaux Arts Gallery, September–October 1954 (1); Venice Biennale, 1956 (British Pavilion, 21).
Repr: Encounter, III, No.15, 1954, facing p.62; Clutton-Brock, 1961, pl.2 (in colour).

The artist wrote of this work (n.d., August 1956) that ‘it was done with the majority of my Table Top Still Lifes during the summer of 1954 [either in July or August], just after the conclusion of my studies at the Royal College of Arts and Crafts [i.e. the Royal College of Art]. I was working, during that summer, at my wife's father's home [at Greenwich]. There I had a room on the top floor which did service as a studio. For models for my series of Table Top Still Lifes, I used the same table every time, and eating equipment from the kitchen of the house. The works were therefore absolutely contrived and artificially set up.... The Chip Frier was... put there [on the chair-back] for the purpose of improving the composition of the picture. So the work is not a direct painting of the table top in a kitchen found just as the cook left it.’ The picture was painted in three stages, beginning with the floor and table top which was thinly brushed in with dark brown paint and left to dry overnight. Objects were then added in white or light colours to form a vivid contrast with the dark table top. The chairs, dog and upper background came next, and the ‘scissors’ section was left almost to last.

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

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