Stanislawa De Karlowska

Fried Fish Shop


Stanislawa De Karlowska 1876–1952
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 337 × 394 mm
frame: 440 × 496 × 72 mm
Presented by the artist's family 1954

Display caption

Fried fish and chips shops were found in large numbers in London at this time. The food became a staple of a working-class diet. De Karlowska focuses on the figures queuing up to be served. There is a strong sense of London life glimpsed in passing. She also captures the fall of yellow gaslight, penetrating the gloom of the street. When the picture was first exhibited, a reviewer commented, ‘Restful indeed are the quiet subtle harmonies of blue and yellow, while the soft steamy oily atmosphere lifts the common ‘Fried Fish Shop’ into the realm of poetry.’

Gallery label, October 2020

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Catalogue 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

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


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.
Reproduced in Twentieth Century British Art, Christie’s South Kensington, 13 July 2000 (47).
Huntly Carter, ‘Art’, New Age, 10 March 1910, p.452.
Huntly Carter, ‘Art’, New Age, 16 March 1911, pp.474–5.
Frank Rutter, ‘Round the Galleries’, Sunday Times, 19 March 1911, p.5.

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