Oil on canvas
263 x 377 cms (103.36 x 148.16 ins)
Price on Application
Michael Andrews, Earth, Air, Water, Gagosian Gallery, London, 2017
Richrd Calvocoressi, essay on The Colony Room "mural" in Michael Andrews, Earth, Air, Water, Gagosian Gallery, 2017
Lynn Pearson, After the Festival: Mural decoration in postwar Britain, paper given at the Grosvenor Museum, Chester, 14th March 2007
Paul Moorhouse and William Feaver (eds), Michael Andrews, Tate Publishing, London, 2001
Daniel Farson, Soho in the Fifties, London, 1987
An icon of British cultural history. This enormous canvas is one of the largest landscapes that Michael Andrews ever painted. It was installed at the famous Colony Room Club in Soho for fifty years, from 1958 to 2008. Just as the Colony Room was at the centre of Britosh cultural life after the Second World War, so the Colny Room "mural" would be a brilliant centre piece for a major School of London collection.
Michael Andrews is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest British painters of the last half century.
Frequently associated with the School of London, a circle of friends that included Andrews, Auerbach, Bacon, Freud, Kitaj and Kossoff, his work is also related to that of his British Pop Art contemporaries, Peter Blake, Nigel Henderson, David Hockney and Eduardo Paolozzi.
He was so careful in his preparation and so thoughtful in his working process that he produced fewer than two hundred paintings, leading Lucian Freud to declare that Andrews only painted masterpieces.
Andrews suggested painting this "mural" in the summer of 1958 having commented to Muriel Belcher, the proprietess of the Colony Room that the area behind the piano looked rather bare. The result makes clear Andrews' admiration for Pierre Bonnard, specifivcally the Frenchman's massive painting The Terrace at Vernon, 1928. (Oil on canvas. Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf). However the handling of paint in depciting the landscape seems to have much to do with Gauguin, the figure with a hat recalls Picasso's harlequins and the man shown from behind echoes Balthus's famous street scenes.
Poignantly, just as Andrews own life was divided between the innocence and experience of countryside and town, day and night, so The Colony Room Landscape presents a daytime idyll of people dining outdoors as a witty counterpart to the nocturnal debauchery performed before it by the drinkers of the club. Similarly, soon after painting the mural Andrews decided to do a painting of the club and its member, leading to the creation of his most famous painting, The Colony Room (1962) which depicts its famous clientele with the mural as their backdrop.
After leaving the Slade School of Art and terminating his Rome Scholarship prematurely, he returned to London in 1954 and soon found his way to the Colony Room at 41 Dean Street in Soho. Despite being, in the words of the late George Melly, little more than 'a small shabby room with a bar and a few isolated piss-artists', the club was at the centre of the city's creative life throughout the 1950s and 1960s. It gained fame for the artists and writers who used to meet there, among them Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. (George Melly, introduction to Daniel Farson, Soho in the Fifties, London, 1987, p. xiii.)
To the young Dan Farson, newly arrived in Soho in the early 1950s and soon to become a well-known writer and broadcaster, the club was 'everything I had hoped for' and its members 'the most fascinating people I had ever met.) For the painter John Minton it was 'like being in bed with drinks'. (Quoted in Martin Gayford, 'Old Colonials', Independent on Sunday: The Sunday Review, 22 July 2001, pp. 26-7). The journalist Jeffrey Bernard, introduced to Soho by his older brother Bruce in the holidays while he was at naval school, described the experience as 'like walking out of Belsen into Disneyland (Quoted in Farson, Soho in the Fifties.)
The focus of the Colony Room in its heyday was invariably the club's proprietress, Muriel Belcher, the original owner of this mural. When asked why he went there so often, Francis Bacon replied: 'Because it's different from anywhere else. She [Muriel] has a tremendous ability to create an atmosphere of ease. After all, that's what we all want, isn't it? A place to go where one feels free and easy'. To jazz musician and writer George Melly she was 'a benevolent witch: 'this imperious, foul-mouthed, witty woman, with her strange mixture of generosity and beady financial acumen'.(Melly, introduction to Farson, Soho in the Fifties, p. xiii.) For Dan Farson she was 'grandeur personified', 'beady-eyed and imperial', 'an eagle surveying the carrion of her membership' She was a devastating but irresistible combination of friend, mother, sparring partner, security guard - spinning round on her stool and barking Members Only! every time the door opened. Unfailingly generous to impecunious artists, she was withering to those who were dull or tight-fisted: Open your bead-bag, Lottie, she'd cry, and we'll all have a drink with this vision of loveliness, and the reluctant man was forced to buy a round before he left the club, never to be seen againHer invective was unstoppable and unsurpassed in its vehemence, but leavened with an idiosyncratic humour which was 'a form of high camp left over from the thirties'. (Farson, Soho in the Fifties, pp.40-47)
All men were referred to as 'she', or to their faces as 'Lottie' or 'Clara' - all, that is, except Francis Bacon, who was 'daughter' and was allowed to drink for free, or even paid at the rate of £10 per week, in exchange for luring wealthy patrons into the club.( Bruce Bernard, 'Painter Friends', in From London: Bacon, Freud, Kossoff, Andrews, Auerbach, Kitaj, exhibition catalogue, British Council, London, 1995, p. 46.)
Although Muriel Belcher died in 1979 , to the end the club was known to insiders as 'Muriel's' and her face continued to peer down on the drinkers from Kathryn Weatherell's portrait of her above the bar.
For Michael Andrews the Colony Room was 'marvellous' and in an unpublished note he reflected on the importance of the Club: 'In painting it I came to view the clubroom as a box with people playing their customary parts', and with reference to the Club's members he observed that 'placing them was like arresting a choreography'. For Andrews the figures in the painting are 'seen as remembered, as they appear subjectively - not as on an objective examination'. (Michael Andrews, unpublished writings, note dated 11 July 1962). Appropriately the visible backdrop for this choreography was The Colony Room Mural, the largest painting on which Andrews had yet worked.
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LONDON N2 2FH