Wonder Wall—Second World War murals in restaurants and canteens

Murals Bawden 001It is a sad fact that most of the best mural paintings executed in canteens, cafes and restaurants in the UK no longer exist. Unlike those executed for some public buildings, those in private premises are subject to the taste of those who take over the property. By far the most notorious example was, of course, the murals executed around 1913 on the walls of Rudolf Stulik’s Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel in Percy Street, just off Tottenham Court Road, by Wyndham Lewis, which were later painted over.

The prevalence of the post-war obsession of interior decorators with the ‘ white wall ‘ was a possible explanation for the disappearance of most the Second World War murals that feature in an article by the architect Oliver Hill in the November 1943 issue of The Studio magazine. Working within the tradition of thirteen centuries of mural painting in English churches, and using the contemporary iconography of posters, notably those of McKnight Kauffer, many of the muralists commissioned during the Second World War were asked to address what was essentially a captive audience –diners at many British restaurants, staff dining rooms and government canteens. Muralists saw these projects as an opportunity to introduce otherwise unappreciative diners to good public art. To the architect Hill, the mural was not the equivalent of a large framed representational painting that focussed the attention of the viewer on itself, but was part of the building on which it was painted. As such, rather than realistic representation, a ‘good mural ‘ should, according to Hill, ‘ fire the imagination and, by its effect and phantasy, allow the mind of the observer to escape beyond the confines of the room, without, of course, forcibly obtruding itself upon him ‘. Continue reading

How to become a female home decorator c 1930

Decorators women ceiling661Devoted Jot101 followers will perhaps recall a previous jot of about a year ago which featured some unusual photographs of three ‘ women home decorators’ going about their work inside a what appeared to be a Georgian town house. The snaps, which appear to date from the late twenties or very early thirties, were attached to a short handwritten article composed by a women of feminist sympathies outlining the rewards and pitfalls of self-employment for a woman intent upon a career as a decorator. It is not known whether the article was ever published—possibly not, as the manuscript was recovered from an archive of various material. Anyway, here is the article in full.

Home Decoration as a Career.

‘House Decorations is a most enthralling & interesting business, but let no-one imagine it is not a very serious undertaking.

Its aims are artistic, its ideas are artistic, but in the carrying out of these ideas stern business ability is required and no-one need undertake it who does not realise this.

Plain Business means incessant work, physical and mental control, knowledge of men & things, and insight into the character of others.

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Beware—-Lady Decorators at Work !!

Here is one of four press photographs from the Photopress agency showing the same group of female house decorators performing various tasks. The other photographs depict two decorators limning Georgian panelling in a ‘West End mansion ‘, painting exterior window frames at the rear of another Georgian house by means of a ladder, while a third shows paint being mixed. This particular shot of three painters white washing a plaster ceiling while standing on two very precarious looking duckboards would probably horrify our Health and Safety jonnies. Back in the early 1930s, when these photos were probably taken, Risk Assessment Reports were sixty years into the future.
A slightly  sexist comment typed on the back of the Georgian panelling photo by some agency worker is worth examining:

WOMAN DECORATORS BUSY ON THE JOB
Many of the big houses and mansions in the West End are now in the hands of decorators. At some of the houses woman decorators are busy on the job of working with effecientcy (sic) that expert decorators would find hard to beat.