Whether in revellers at a tea party (The Tea Garden, 1928, sold in these rooms, 12th June 2017 for £848,750), errand boys on their bicycles (Bicycle Boys, 1939, sold in these rooms, 17th November 2015 for £485,000) or card players gathered around a game (The Chess Players, 1929, sold in these rooms, 10th May 2012 for £1,161,250) Roberts captured with ease the unfolding drama and narratives, as can be seen so eloquently in the present work, depicting the familiar scene of men at the barber shop.
Painted in 1946, after six years of the bloodiest conflict the world had ever seen there is a sense of the beginnings of a return to normality in this everyday scene. But there is still the strong reminder of the period, with a softer, more muted palette than one might have seen in his paintings of a decade earlier. The clothes– with the khaki green cuffs and trousers of the central seated figure – reminiscent of what these men had lived through. Yet this is a painting that abounds with hope and optimism through a return to what for many would have been an everyday life. This return was met with great relief by Roberts who had, as a result of tense relations with the War Artists' Advisory Committee, produced only sporadic wartime subjects.
For Roberts, as for many, the end of the war meant a return to the normalities that he had, for so long, drawn inspiration from in his drawings and paintings. In his typically crowded scenes he weaves a narrative that reflects his working-class roots, and depicts a scene of everyday life that viewers at the Leicester Galleries exhibition of July 1946 would have easily related to. It was certainly a subject that attracted the original purchaser of the work, the artist David Carr. A pupil at Cedric Morris’s East Anglian School of Painting, where he studied alongside Lucian Freud, Carr built up a collection of works by many of his close contemporaries, including L.S. Lowry, Prunella Clough and Freud, and one is able to trace the influence that these artists were to have on his own work, which centred around industrial street scenes and factory workers.
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