The composition of ‘Window, Dartmouth Row, Blackheath’ by John Bratby consists of irregular squares and rectangles forming a view from a window. Outside is the façade of a church and neighbouring houses along the street in south east London where Bratby and his wife Jean Cooke lived. Inside a Kellogg’s cornflake packet and a small shelving unit, appear to rest on a concealed table top. Bratby plays with our sense of space – the shelving unit, placed at an angle, juts out towards us with the cornflake packet on its end. It is slightly unsettling not to see the table top. At the right is an unidentified interior feature which suspends from the wall held by a brace.
Here Bratby treats a cornflake packet with the same level of detail as the view from the window. He painted this work in 1954 when he became known as a ‘Kitchen Sink’ painter. This term derived from an article written by the art critic David Sylvester who coined it to identify a style of English realist painting. Fellow painters included Jack Smith, Edward Middleditch and Derrick Greaves. Bratby’s paintings also featured brand names and packaging partly in response to the availability of new processed foods and products after wartime austerity. His subjects shocked the niceties of the art world and attracted public interest.
John Bratby was born in London and studied at Kingston School of Art (1948 -1950) and the Royal College of Art (1951). His first solo exhibition was held in 1954 at the Beaux Arts Gallery in London. This show and another at the Royal Academy that year, launched his professional career. Bratby was associated with ‘Kitchen Sink’ painting, a brand of 1950s English realist painting. Along with Jack Smith, Edward Middleditch and Derrick Greaves, Bratby represented Britain at the 1956 Venice Biennale. Their figurative, unheroic depictions of everyday life antithesised the élitism of abstraction and Neo-Romanticism. Bratby was elected an RA in 1971 and the National Portrait Gallery held a retrospective of his work in 1991.
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