2012 Highlights

Jonathan Black

8 May 2012

Jonathan Black

Dr. Jonathan Black studied History and History of Art at the Universities of Cambridge and London. He was awarded his PhD in History of Art by UCL in 2004 for a thesis which explored masculinity and the image of the British First World War soldier in the art of: C.R.W. Nevinson (1889-1946); Charles Sargeant Jagger (1885-1934) and Eric Henri Kennington (1888-1960) c.1915-1925. Recent publications include: 'The Face of Courage: Eric Kennington, Portraiture and the Second World War' (London, 2011) and 'The Spirit of Faith: The Sculpture of John Bunting (London, 2012). He is the co-curator of the exhibition 'Dora Gordine: Sculptor' at the Adamson-Eric Museum, Tallinn, Estonia (April-August 2012).'

Abstract: An Alien Race on our Streets? The Costermonger in pre-First World War British Literature and Painting

In 1912 the popular writer and pundit on social issues Edwin Pugh described the London costermonger as ‘an alien race on our streets.’ His tone, however, was more affectionate than hostile as he noted in passing how the coster had featured vividly in the writing of Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Arnold Bennett and Jack London. This paper will explore the pre-1914 image of the London coster – not yet automatically taken as synonymous with the cockney – in the work of a number of a number of leading Georgian artists such as: Augustus John; William Orpen; William Nicholson and Eric Kennington. All had their perceptions of the coster considerably moulded by the very writers Pugh listed. Particular attention will be focussed on the work of Eric Kennington as he is known to have viewed the coster through the prism of Kipling’s literary evocation of them as tough, yet admirable, figures who greatly enlivened the London scene and provided an almost desirable role model of working class Englishness. Indeed, Kennington’s career was essentially launched by a series of paintings of costers selling fruit and vegetables, and what passed for ‘fast food’ of the day, in the streets of the Walham Green area of Fulham while he also celebrated the coster ‘out of the city’, picking fruit, in a series of murals he produced c.1912-13 for the staff canteen of a new Crosse & Blackwell jam bottling factory in Nine Elms, Vauxhall.