About the work
Posed with a studied languor and provocative indifference, the young woman serving behind the bar rests her arms awkwardly on the counter, looking somewhat at odds with her surroundings. This bar is far from being a typical dark and dowdy English pre-war pub: the well stacked shelves of wines and spirits; the bottle on the bar bearing the handwritten label ‘Rhum’; the dainty glass holder topped by a vase of flowers; the round-headed chair and the painted decorated motifs on the walls, make this a lighter and distinctly more aesthetic portrait of an elegant French bar. Colin Gill probably painted this picture in the 1920s or early 1930s when, like many other artists of his generation, he was presumably attracted to France and particularly Paris, one of the most important centres for Western artists in the world.
This picture is a good example of Gill’s mastery of decorative painting. For him, all the elements in this composition are equally important; the arrangement of the bottles on the shelves, the moulding round the bar and the painted woodwork for example are treated with the same attention and tonal values as the young woman, who becomes part of the overall pattern of the rather stylised composition.
The chalky, dry pale tones of this painting, its somewhat linear quality and the classically regular features of the young woman call to mind the appearance of Italian Renaissance decorative frescoes, which Gill would have studied in palaces and churches during his stay in Rome. In technique it seems closer to such mural paintings than the freer and more fluid oil brushwork of Édouard Manet, whose last major work, The Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882, Courtauld Collection, London) featuring an attractive but less posed young woman serving at the bar, pre-dates Gill’s bar scene.
About the artist
- Café Bar
- Oil on canvas
- height: 86.50 cm, width: 109.00 cm
- Purchased from Piccadilly Gallery, October 1986
- verso: Colin Gill THE TOWER HOUSE, TITE ST., CHELSEA / CAFÉ BAR
- GAC number