The Years of Transition. 1958-1962


  • Oil on board
  • 224 x 1105 cms
  • 1958



Nuffield College, Oxford


A collaboration with Edward Middleditch

From 1957-9, the families of Greaves and Middleditch lived together in the 'decaying splendour' of a 'dilapidated mansion' at Great Linford in Buckinghamshire. When Middleditch was asked to do a mural for Nuffield College, Oxford he invited Greaves to work with him. The result was a mural entitled The Four Seasons (1957) that echoed the massive 'mural' at Cecil Sharp House in London (1950-4) by Ivon Hitchens, with whom they had both recently shared the British Pavilion in Venice. The approach taken by the two young painters was 'free-form' and the only planning was the decision to incorporate certain motifs to represent the four seasons.

The work had Middleditch's stamp on it more than that of Greaves. Middleditch painted cow parsley, meadow grasses and blossom, an equivalent to the pastoralism of Ralph Vaughan Williams's music, whilst Greaves tried to capture the heat of summer, a sleeping figure and a large wagon wheel, pressing old drawings into service.

The mural was planned as an oil sketch on an 8-ft (2.4m) strip of hardboard, rather than through drawings, and was painted on 8 x 4ft (2.4 x 1.2m) boards, totalling almost 60ft (18.3m) in length, in Middleditch's studio. The panels were taken to a halfway stage before being fitted in the library where they were completed 'extempore, like an easel painting on a wall'.

This required more effort than intended. When installed the panels did not work in the room, so the two men locked the door and worked on itin situ, with paints on a dinner trolley. They went in day after day during the summer vacation and the work changed out of all recognition. Their only rule was that if they did not like what their friend had done they could paint it out. This 'improvisation' constituted, for Greaves, a sort of 'wall-jazz', and resulted in a work that was quite different from the oil sketch that Nuffield College had initially approved.

Although its subject was apolitical, the fact that this mural was a public and joint endeavour was a source of praise, especially from Berger, who related the success of the project to it having a definite objective and argued that the work of both artists had benefited by such collaboration. However, even the writing of their great champion was now becoming equivocal in tone, for Berger wrote that 'there seems to be no conflict between style or vision' but in a backhanded compliment argued that the mural was 'better than any easel painting which either of them has recently produced. The job presented them with definite objective problems which they clearly had to solve; whereas left to themselves both Greaves and Middleditch, like many other artists, have sometimes tended to forget about solutions and only choose problems.the same summer that Greaves was shown in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Berger had praised 'Greaves and Middleditch [for] refusing to look back on their success, beginning again'. Now, two years later, he enthusiastically praised their mural:

"It succeeds because, unlike the majority of English decorative mural paintings today, which are either vacuously abstract or quaintly humorous, it has something serious to celebrate. Happiness leaves the mind free not empty, and it is with the freedom attained in this way that one's eye can wander over this wall, delighting in shapes and colours whose meanings are not for one moment denied, but can look after themselves The collaboration between Greaves and Middleditch has really worked. There seems to have been no conflict of either style or vision. So much for the artist as incorrigible lone hunter."

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