Signed, titled and dated on reverse
Private Collection, London
Derrick Greaves, Paintings and Drawings 1952 - 2002, James Hyman Gallery, 28 January - 4 March 2005
Derrick Greaves: Paintings and Drawings 1952 - 2002, James Hyman Gallery, London, 2003, (cat. 18), illustrated p.15.
James Hyman, Derrick Greaves:From Kitchen Sink to Shangri-La, Lund Humphries, London 2007, illustrated p. 38.
A prevalent theme for the 'kitchen-sink' painters was that of a mother and baby. Reflecting both personal circumstances and a post-war baby-boom, these prosaic images were nonetheless an antidote to Henry Moore's lofty idealisation of the subject as a universal symbol of maternity. Edward Middleditch's rare depiction of a person, Baby (1952), Jack Smith's iconic Mother Bathing a Child (1954) and Greaves's First Steps (1956) are paintings of privation conveyed in muted tones that are at best distantly related to Moore's well-fed families. Greaves had married a nurse, Margaret Johnson in 1950 and in 1956 she gave birth to their first child, Simon, soon to be followed by Julia and Daniel. Images of his wife and oldest son would dominate his work of 1956 and its presentation in exhibitions in London that year.
First Steps is characteristic of the period, although its delicacy contrasts with contemporaneous, thickly impasto paintings in which forms were painted to suggest the weight of the subject and light used to model their volumes. First Steps was included in one of the most important international exhibitions of British art of the 1950s, Looking at People. Looking at People toured Britain during 1955-6 and was visited by 250,000 people before travelling to Russia where it was the first show of Western art since the Russian Revolution in 1917. Initially including work by just three artists - its instigator, the illustrator Paul Hogarth, the painter Carel Weight and sculptor Betty Rae - by the time it reached its final British venue, the South London Art Gallery, Looking at People had been expanded with the inclusion of Greaves as well as Edward Ardizzone, Alistair Grant, George Fullard and Ruskin Spear. It was this expanded version of the show that travelled to Russia and was at that time one of the largest exhibitions of contemporary British art ever held outside Britain. Spear, Hogarth and Greaves travelled to Russia for the exhibition, cutting the tape at the opening at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and speaking on Moscow Radio. In a speech at the opening ceremony, Hogarth told of the idealism behind the show: 'We have been moved by the fact that artists as well as statesmen can and are able to contribute to international understanding. But this exhibition of British social realism received only limited support and its proposed exhibition at a second venue, the Hermitage, was cancelled.