A glimpse of social history

One of my other passions is the exploration of social history. Being a genealogist, I have found the way in which our family trees link into to social history very rewarding. This painting, ‘In Search of Peace’ by Louisa Hodgson was painted in 1935-36 -the interwar years. It is currently in an exhibition at Manchester Museum and Art Gallery called House Proud which is well worth a visit as it looks at aspects of art and design linked to the modernist period.

The medium is Tempera on a panel and this gives it a gentle quality, along with the palette of pale pastel colours. This work is capturing a moment in time:7.50pm and people are returning home either from work in the city, or from a day in the countryside. The composition allows us to peek into the lives of the suburbanites.

We begin with the cut away of the house, reminiscent of a stage set and as this was the period of consumerism, you can understand the connection -homes were being ‘dressed’ to show how the middle classes were aware of qhow the upper classes decorated their homes. In the corner is a grandfather clock, modern furniture and a radio, with musical notes coming out of it. A neighbour listens in as the man sits in his chair reading the daily newspaper.

Upstairs, a shift worker is struggling to sleep -the sound of the radio and the glare of the electric light outside causes him to count sheep. However,mthe sheep are not free to rom but are penned in, perhaps a reflection of the mechanisation of the work place.

Outside the house, two couples return from a day in the countryside, demonstrating the way in which leisuretime was now an important part of life. An old man is tending his allotment. Everything is neat and tidy -orderly in fact, which gives a sense of the desire for a ‘perfect life’.

The centre of the painting is the Peace Conference -plans for the town are discussed here and to the left at the back is a new set of homes being built. The desire to make beautiful what had been destroyed in the Great War was the motivation begind the changes to housing at this time. The building of the garden Cities was part of this vision. Bringing rural values to the city was a prime concept of the time. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin said, “after four years of slaughter and destruction many times four years would be needed to repair even part of what had been lost… and after such a storm should there not be calm, and would not the sun come out and the world be more beautiful than before?”

Finally, on the right, the cinema -representing glamour and escapism. Every town had its own picture palace, a place where anything and eveything can come true.

This was such a lovely painting to take in and the whole exhibition was a delight.