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

A Georgian Giles Coren (concluded)

Georgian eateries117Virginia, Newman’s Court, Cornhill.

This house is much frequented by ship carpenters, and ship brokers. Dinners are very well served up at 15d a head. Rural city merchants, that is, those who sleep in the country, generally dine here. The entertainment is good, and the charge moderate. As to the mistress at the bar, she is very obliging; she is as prolific in curtseys as a Frenchwoman, and as prolific in issue as a rabbit.1)

Mill’s, Gerrard Street, Soho

This house is remarkable for good red port, and good spirits. They dress dinners and suppers in style —and the breakfast are very comfortable. Several intelligent gentlemen, stricken in years, are it’s constant guests, and the conversation is both pleasing and instructive. The charges are indeed very reasonable, and the attention prompt and agreeable. It is celebrated for being the very first house that reduced the prices of wines and spirits, after the commencement of the French treaty. 2)

Batson’s Coffee House, near ‘Change.

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The Diary of A Dining-Out Man

From Virtual Victorian

From a volume of Bentley's Miscellany (London, 1841)- this piece by Albany Poyntz (i.e. Catherine Gore) other contributors to this volume included Ainsworth, Crowquill, Ingoldsby & Longfellow. She also wrote A World of Wonders (Richard Bentley, London 1845) - a polymathic work refuting popular superstitions with  chapters on Pope Joan, Wild Women, Sybils, Monstrous Births and Ventriloquism etc.,. The full text can be found at Project Gutenberg.

Catherine Gore (1799 - 1861) is best known for her many "silver-fork" novels, which depicted fashionable high society. In 1830, she published her first silver-fork novel, Women As They Are, or Manners of the Day, and then went on to write many more books in this popular genre that provided her with a considerable income. There is much on her at The Corvey Novels Project (Nebraska) She was known as a bright conversationalist, an attribute that also displayed itself in the dialogue in her novels. Her writing is often compared to Jane Austen's, particularly her descriptions of the "heartless society mother" in various novels. In this piece The Diary of A Dining-Out Man, which she writes as 'Albany Poyntz' the extreme worldliness of tone prefigures Saki. It is a world she would have known - she was herself at one time very rich but was swindled out of £20,000, and had to write several more society novels to recoup.

DIARY OF A DINING-OUT MAN.
BY ALBANY POYNTZ.

  So, here we are in the season again. — Goodness  be praised ! — Those country houses take too much  out of a man, in return for what he extracts from them. It is well enough in those where one has  the ear of the house, as well as the run of the house, — remaining a fixture, while successive parties of guests appear and disappear; for the  same bon-mots and good stories serve to amuse his  Grace on Friday, which were tried upon the country-neighbour party with success, the preceding Monday, — as inoculation was attempted upon criminals, before the royal family were submitted to the prick of the lancet. More particularly when the whole set has been renovated. It is a bore to have some single gentleman, or stationary souffre douleur cousin, on the watch for the point of every well-worn anecdote,–like people at a pantomime, familiar beforehand with the tricks.    Still, even when one makes a hit, the wear and tear of the thing is prodigious. One goes through  the work of three dinners per diem ; — to wit, breakfast, luncheon, and dinner, — and all without refreshment ! In town, one has the chance of the clubs and morning visits to brighten one. But in a country house, where one can only rub up per aid of the new works and periodicals lying on the table, or visits shared in common with the rest of the party, one must fall back on one's own resources, — and the effort is prodigious.

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The Arts and the Café Royal

Between 29 June and 29 July 1956 the National Book League (whatever happened to this?) staged an exhibition entitled ‘London after Dark’ on the first floor of the famous Café Royal in Lower Regent Street. The exhibition was designed to tell the story, in books, manuscripts and pictures, of London night life between 1866, when the Café Royal opened its doors, and the present day, when Soho was still a vibrant bohemian quarter .It was this exhibition that three Soho habitués, Daniel Farson, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon visited one day in June or July, 1956. Many of the pictures on display were by, or depicted, celebrities connected to the Café Royal, and one example caught Freud’s attention. Farson takes up the story:

Lucian looked at the label on the back and reported ‘Sickert’. This set me wondering as we continued our circuit, and as we passed it again I rashly broke my silence, for I had not dared to venture an opinion before. 'If that’s by Sickert', I declared, 'he could never have painted a great picture.’ The two of  them looked at me with irritation, so with the hope of proving my point I bent down and looked at the back for myself, emerging triumphantly with the tactless cry---‘It’s not by Sickert, it’s of Sickert, by Nina Hamnett!’ They were not amused. Daniel Farson, Soho in the Fifties (1987)

Soho has changed, even in the last thirty years, as post punk singer Marc Almond complained recently on TV. But the Café Royal has perhaps changed most dramatically.  Around 2007 I paid a visit to its menu board outside with a view to getting a meal paid for by Rare Book Review as part of my ‘research’ for an article on its famous literary associations. It was, it seemed, still functioning, though probably on its last legs. A few months later I revisited it and found that this haunt of Wilde, Whistler, Sickert and Augustus John had closed its door to diners in preparation for a refit. A sly peep into what had been the Grill Room revealed little that would distinguish it from any other West End restaurant of a certain vintage. The tables and chairs had been removed. It looked sad and tired. I don’t know what the old Café Royal is now. And I don’t really care. [R.M.Healey]

QuoVadis

Leoni’s Quo Vadis restaurant: ‘no better place in the world to dine or lunch’

Leoni printed this praise from the film actress Evelyn Laye in a tiny promotional booklet reprinted to coincide with the Festival of Britain in 1951.The year before, journalist, S. Jay Kaufman, a veteran American, in a letter to Leoni, revealed that from 1911 to July 1914 no 27, Dean Street, Soho, which under Pepino Leoni became the Quo Vadis restaurant in 1926, had been home to himself and the painter Horace Brodsky. Back then, Kaufman explained, the domestic arrangements might have been pretty basic, but the good company had made up for this:

'The cuisine ? Ours! The charwomen ? Ourselves! And to this Adam house came Harry Kemp, John Flanagan, Augustus John, Jacob Epstein, J.T Grien, Lillian Shelley, Nelson Keys, Lily Cadogan, David Burton, Louis Wolheim Arnold Daly, Sir Charles Cochran , Leon M Lion, Constance Collier, Granville Barker, and Frank Harris…’

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The return of the Italian Restaurants 1961

From 'Minder' circa 1982 - Arthur Dailey leaving Otello's

Found in The Good Food Guide 1961-1962, this review of an Italian restaurant in Soho. It shows  how restaurants reflect London's recent history, and although this was the beginning of the swinging 60s it was written only 15 years after WW2 ('war wounds are healing.'). Otello Scipioni died recently aged 91 and the restaurant is now called Zilli. He also owned the grander Italian restaurant Villa dei Cesari near the Tate Gallery.  As the 60s progressed the Italians came to dominate the catering scene - Italian trattorias being a great hangout for the beautiful, the rich and the famous. Fortunes were made. Note the GFG's feedback system -- the names at bottom being unpaid food enthusiasts who had written in - the bit about singing waiters is probably a quote from one of them them. Longo Intervallo = long gap.

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London Night and Day 1951

London Night and Day, illustrated by Osbert Lancaster, edited by Sam Lambert (Architectural Press, 1951)

Surely one of the most entertaining of the plethora of books brought out in the wake of the Festival of Britain. The coloured cover illustrations and the vignettes in black and white were by Osbert Lancaster, a friend of John Piper—the same John Piper who is named in a section devoted to the Festival, to which he contributed, among other things, a superb semi-abstract panorama. If you hadn’t been informed that Lancaster had designed the cover, you would have attributed it to Piper, whose style of portraying shop fronts is showcased in Buildings and Prospects, which had appeared just a few years earlier. Lancaster’s style is identical. Was Piper concerned that he was being flagrantly copied by Lancaster? Probably, but according to his biographer Frances Spalding, the two men were friends.

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How to be Happy on the Riviera 2

The second part of a posting of a complete book How to be Happy on the Riviera by Robert Elson W. (Arrowsmith Ltd., 11 Quay Street, Bristol, 1927). There is plenty on food and restaurants (including menus and tips on coffee, ice cream and liqueurs) and some good descriptions of gamblers in Monte Carlo - 

"Little old women in Victorian black silk dresses and bonnets; others attired in the fashions of twenty or thirty years ago; exotic-looking young women, wearing extravagant parodies of the fashions of to-day – some exactly like cinema vamps; women like men, and girls like boys. A duke who is a frequent visitor summed it up neatly: 'There are always a lot of queer wild-fowl about'...you may see incredibly ancient men; wild-looking men with immense manes of hair; gaunt men with sunken cheeks and bony hands who might have come out of a novel by Mrs. Radclyffe, unnatural-looking young men who might have been created by Mr. Michael Arlen; people who impress you as half crazy, others who look as if they had been dead a long time, only they don't know it.'

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Eating Chinese in late 1940s Soho

Forwarded to us by a loyal jot watcher. One restaurant was favoured by celebrities - Johnnie Mills, Bobby Howes, Coral Browne, Sandy Powell, Ivan Maisky and Lady Cripps - probably impressive names in their day. I especially like the bit about Lord Tredegar bringing his own jade chopsticks...

Stanley Jackson’s brief but brilliant Indiscreet Guide to Soho is crammed with so much colourful reportage on the immediately post-war night life, petty crime, Bohemian characters and restaurants in this popular quarter of London, that it is difficult to choose what to Jot down. In the end, I opted for two pages on Chinese restaurants. Jackson attributes our ‘craze‘ for eating Chinese to our sympathy for the nation’s stand against the ‘Jap Fascists‘, but the trend must surely pre-date this.

Incidentally, what happened to the redoubtable ‘Ley-On’s ?’

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