Peter Coker

Drawing for ‘Butcher’s Shop I’


Not on display

Peter Coker 1926–2004
Graphite on paper
Support: 428 × 282 mm
Presented by the artist 1987

Catalogue entry

T05027 Drawing for ‘Butcher's Shop I’ 1955

Pencil on machine-made wove paper 428 × 282 (16 3/4 × 11)
Inscribed ‘Peter Coker 55’ b.r. and at top of backboard: ‘RA CATALOGUE No 5. Peter COKER - Paintings and Drawings of the Butchers Shop | Cat 5 | Butchers Shop No 1 | Pencil 16 × 10 1/2 INS Signed Peter Coker 55 | Working Drawing for painting Butchers Shop No 1 1955 (Sheffield City Art Galleries | painting) | Tour | 1979 University of Liverpool | Carlisle Museum and | Art Gallery | Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery | Atkinson Art Gallery | Southport | Royal Academy of ARTS | London’

Presented by the artist 1987

Prov: Purchased from the artist by Frans Aerts, Ostend 1979, from whom bt by the artist 1987
Exh: Peter Coker: Paintings & Drawings of the Butcher's Shop, University of Liverpool, Jan.–Feb. 1979, Carlisle Museum and Art Gallery, Feb.–March 1979, Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery, April–May 1979, Atkinson Art Gallery, Southport, May–June 1979, RA, July–Aug. 1979 (5, as ‘Butcher's Shop I’, repr. on front cover)
Lit: Nicholas Coker in Peter Coker: Paintings & Drawings of the Butcher's Shop, exh. cat., University of Liverpool 1979, [p.2], repr. on front cover

This drawing depicts the interior of a butcher's shop. A large slab of meat hangs in the foreground towards the right-hand side, with two others just discernible behind it. In the background towards the left, the figure of the butcher is seen from behind as he leans over his shop bench. The chequered design of the tiles on the walls of the shop and the rail from which the meat hooks hang define the enclosed space of the shop. The drawing was begun lightly in pencil and then the main lines were gone over again with stronger, darker strokes to summarise the forms. At this stage the artist enlarged the side of meat at the top and bottom. The butcher's feet were drawn in sketchily and then rubbed out.

The image was drawn on two pieces of paper which were sellotaped together and then pasted down onto another sheet for added strength. The marks left by the sellotape are visible along the join, which lies about one inch from the top of the image. The piece at the top appears to have been added after the composition was begun, in order to allow space for the top part of the meat hook which hangs down in the foreground of the image. The edges of the sheet appear at one time to have been folded over along the vertical lines drawn roughly down each side and at the bottom, just below the artist's signature. This may account for the discrepancy between the dimensions inscribed on the backboard and the actual dimensions of the full sheet. The bottom right corner of the paper has been torn away but the artist has continued the drawing onto the backing sheet.

T05027 is a preparatory study for the painting ‘Butcher's Shop I’, 1955 (Sheffield City Art Galleries, oil on board, 1830 × 1220 mm, repr. The Forgotten Fifties, exh. cat., Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield 1984, p.22). In the same year Coker painted another version of this subject, ‘Butcher's Shop II’ (Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery, oil on board, 1830 × 1220 mm; a photograph of the work being carried into the Zwemmer Gallery by Michael Chase and the artist in 1956 is reproduced in Peter Coker, exh. cat., Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal 1992, p.12). In this second work a bench, on which a still-life of scales and weights is arranged, dominates the foreground of the composition, while two pig carcases, an empty meat-hook and a knife hang down behind. There is no butcher. A preparatory drawing for ‘Butcher's Shop II’ is now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (charcoal and chalk, 387 × 273 mm, exh. The Forgotten Fifties, Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield 1984, no.18a, not repr.).

In 1955 Coker worked on a large group of paintings and drawings based on the theme of the butcher's shop. which dominated his first one-man exhibition held at the Zwemmer Gallery in 1956. The majority of the paintings show animal carcases, depicted in a manner which places them somewhere between still-life and portraiture. Only ‘Butcher's Shop I’ and ‘Man Carrying Pig’ (T 03216, 1828 × 838 mm, repr. Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980–2, 1984, p.67) include the figure of the butcher himself.

Coker's subject matter in the butcher's shop works can be considered within the context of British ‘Kitchen Sink’ painting of the 1950s. The work of the so-called ‘Kitchen Sink School’ (the term was coined by the critic David Sylvester in 1954) has been characterised as employing ‘a range of subject matter which abuts onto the traditional iconography of landscape and still-life while also permitting a self-aware exploration of “real life”, the Social Realism so hotly discussed at the time’ (Dr Gail-Nina Anderson, in Kitchen Sink & Other Drawings of the Fifties in Black Chalk, exh. cat., Julian Hartnoll 1994, [p.6]). Although Coker was not one of the four main artists associated with the ‘Kitchen Sink School’, namely John Bratby, Derrick Greaves, Jack Smith and Edward Middleditch, his work was closely allied to theirs. In his 1954 article entitled ‘The Kitchen Sink’ for the magazine Encounter, David Sylvester wrote: ‘The postwar generation takes us back from the studio to the kitchen. Dead ducks, rabbits and fish ... can be found there, as in the expressionist slaughterhouse...’ (quoted in Sheffield exh. cat., 1984, p.9). With his reference to ‘the expressionist slaughterhouse’, Sylvester was alluding to Soutine's paintings of carcasses of the 1920s. It has been suggested that Coker may have seen Soutine's paintings of sides of beef at the Galerie André Weil, Paris in 1953 (see, for example, ‘Carcass of Beef’, c.1925, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, repr. Alfred Werner, Chaim Soutine, 1978, p.123 in col.), although his response to the subject matter remains highly individual and characteristic of his own experience (Coker 1979, [p.2]).

The shop which inspired Coker's butcher's shop works was Messrs Watson, situated in Hainault Road, Leytonstone, close to he artist's East End studio. In the catalogue of Coker's retrospective exhibition in 1972, Frederick Gore described how Coker would draw in the shop itself: ‘the actual butcher's shop was just round the corner - the butcher was almost a friend, for he had known Peter's family since he started as a boy in the shop. Peter could go and draw unselfconsciously. He would let Peter in on closing days’ (in Peter Coker, exh. cat., The Minories, Colchester 1972, [p.7]). In the catalogue to the 1979 exhibition of the butcher's shop works, in which many of the drawings, including T05027, were exhibited for the first time, the artist's son, Nicholas Coker, discussed the series at length. Of T05027 and the related paintings he wrote (Coker 1979, [p.2]):

The two sketches for Butcher's Shop I and II were drawn from memory having had the idea in the shop itself, Messrs. Watson, Hainault Road, Leytonstone, E 11. The shop is an enclosed space in which the contours of the carcases and hooks and cleavers are thrown against the back wall. The space is clearly defined by the rectilinear bars in Butcher's Shop I, while in Butcher's Shop II the depth of the field is expressed by the depth of the bench...

The artist's wife, Vera Coker, confirmed in a letter to the compiler dated 29 August 1990 that T05027 was made in the artist's London studio and that there were no other major drawings for ‘Butcher's Shop I’, although ‘a few rough sketches developing the idea’ would have been done in situ. The composition of the drawing is very close to that of the finished painting. The main difference is the inclusion in the painting of a table in the foreground at bottom right, on which lie a knife and a skewered joint of meat. The table-top is tilted towards the picture plane, cutting out some of the perspective implied by the bottom of the line of tiles in the drawing, and creating a shallower space than that of the drawing. The artist also slightly modified the leaning pose of the butcher to the same effect. These changes are consistent with Nicholas Coker's description of his father's practice of working from drawings to break down the traditional notion of situating still-life subjects in an indefinite space, in order to suggest an enclosed space and to gain a certain freedom of design (ibid).

In her letter Vera Coker confirmed that T05027 ‘was repossessed by my husband from Frans Aerts in 1987 in part payment for a later landscape drawing’. It was at this point that Coker inscribed the backboard with all the information pertaining to the work. In an earlier letter to the Tate Gallery dated 2 October 1987, the artist observed of T05027 that ‘the drawing is really the key work to all the 1955 paintings’.

This entry has been approved by Vera Coker.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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