Sunday, May 10, 2009

Crouch Hill, London

The White Stuff

I travel regularly to Central Europe, and one of the pleasures of going there is the long and rich tradition of decorating the external walls of buildings. Why should wall painting be for indoors only? In the Czech Republic fresco and sgraffito abound on medieval, Renaissance, and baroque buildings, and their subjects tell stories, recall past owners, or act as testimony to religious devotion.

The efforts of these artists sometimes make me wish that more English buildings bore this kind of decoration. A few from the late-19th century do. This one, the Old Dairy on Crouch Hill, still bears a stunning series of seven panels in red and white fresco. Dating from around 1890, they illustrate the dairying process, from grazing and milking, through cooling and butter-making, to delivery, and were commissioned by the Friern Manor Dairy to give their premises a new public face. The artist is unknown.

There is, of course, something idealized about these frescoes. They’re a form of advertising, after all, and the dairy clearly had an interest in making us imagine pretty milkmaids, shining milk churns, and idyllic rural settings. But they’re well drawn, with cows, horses, and indeed buildings, that one can believe in and that could teach city children who’d not seen a cow something about where their milk and butter came from. Making a rather ordinary city street extraordinary, they can teach us a thing or two.


Ed said...

You didn't tell us that the Old Dairy is now a pub - now that's a good reason to go and visit it!

When it comes to this sort of decoration, then I firmly believe in moderation. It has a touch of the weinstube about is - sorry, but it's a bit kitsch. I agree, though, that these are good examples and remind me of the illustrations in the Arthur Mee encyclopedias of my childhood.

Peter Ashley said...

Just brilliant, thankyou.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Ed: Sorry about not mentioning that it's a pub! Got distracted there (and it was early in the morning when I saw the place, so couldn't go in and sample the wares).

Kitsch? Maybe. Perhaps this kind of thing does work better in an old children's encyclopedia. Or on a Doulton pot - these images reminded me of the work of Doulton's artist Hannah Barlow, although her work is a bit looser and at the same time more realistic I think.