John Bratby

Window, Self-Portrait, Jean and Hands


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Not on display

John Bratby 1928–1992
Oil paint on board
Support: 1220 × 3658 mm
Purchased 1957

Display caption

John Bratby became a leading figure in the school of uncompromising realist painting, known in the 1950's as Kitchen Sink. This painting shows the artist and his wife, together with several views of his hands and arms along the bottom of the canvas. Unsatisfied with the way the picture was progressing he decided to incorporate these multiple representations of himself painting it. He noted that the painting took on a new life 'I went ahead painting more and more hands, with their attendant shirt-covered chests, hairy forearms and rolled up shirt sleeves.' Working in the backyard under a temporary shelter, the artist painted himself without a mirror. He also altered the perspective to suit his composition.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Inscr. ‘John Bratby June 1957’ t.l. and ‘Bratby’ b.c.
Oil on hardboard, 48×144 (122×366); a strip of wood 1 in. wide covers the edge all round.
Purchased from the Beaux Arts Gallery (Cleve Fund and Grant-in-Aid) 1957.
Exh: Beaux Arts Gallery, September–October 1957 (1).
Lit: Clutton-Brock, 1961, p.17, repr. pl.5 (in colour).
Repr: Art News, LVI, December 1957, p.48; The Artist, LVI, October 1958, p.43.

The picture was painted at the artist's house, Dartmouth Row, Greenwich. He wrote (31 October 1957): 'As for the great long picture with my hands, my wife, myself, window and two trumpets, this picture was painted in the summer of 1957.

'Depressed by the way the picture was progressing, I began to paint my hands and body as if they were painting the picture, and in the picture at the same time. The picture took on a new life when I did this, and I went ahead painting more and more hands, with their attendant shirt-covered chests, hairy forearms and rolled up shirt sleeves. I became fascinated by this pictorial device and even painted my whole front into the picture, trousers, shoes, cigarette and all.

'The painting is from reality - the windows and tiled area are real things from which I painted this work. Every night I brought the work indoors from its anchorage outside the back of the house; also when it rained I hurriedly struggled with the work and brought it into the dry. Above the work I erected a large canvas roof to keep the rain from it, but the rain beat on the back of the board.

'The painting, as I mentioned, is from real things, but the whole picture is as seen in a mirror (which didn't exist by the way), and the perspective of the tiled area is kicked around for pictorial purposes.

‘It took two weeks to paint.’

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


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