Edward Middleditch 1923-1987


1991, London, The Mayor Gallery in association with Julian Hartnoll, The Kitchen Sink Painters: John Bratby, Peter Coker, Derrick Greaves, Edward Middleditch, Jack Smith, cat. no. 24, p. 68, col. ill., p. 69. 
Edward Middleditch was born in Chelmsford, Essex in 1923. His family briefly moved to Nottingham but he returned to attend school in Chelmsford before enrolling in the army in 1942 during WWII. He saw active service in France and Germany as part of the Middlesex Regiment, sustaining a severe injury and returning home, having received the Military Cross. After the war, he attended Regent Street Polytechnic between 1947 and 1949, and then the Royal College of Art from 1949 until 1952 with an ex-serviceman’s grant. Whilst at the RCA he was taught by John Minton, Ruskin Speak, and Carel Weight and his contemporaries included Derrick Greaves and Jack Smith. Alongside Greaves, Smith, John Bratby, and – loosely – Peter Coker, Middleditch shot to fame as part of the group termed the ‘Kitchen Sink’ painters by the critic David Sylvester for their depictions of gritty post-war London. Middleditch, Greaves, Smith and Bratby were shown by Helen Lessore’s Beaux Arts gallery and represented Britain at the Venice Biennale of 1956. Middleditch taught at Bath Academy, Corsham, St Martin’s School of Art, Chelsea School of Art, and Norwich School of Art. He was elected a Royal Academician in 1973 and became Keeper of the RA in 1984. He died in Chelmsford in 1987, the same year a major retrospective of his work organised by the Arts Council opened at the South Bank Centre. His work in held in national and international public collections.

Though all four artists vociferously rejected the label of ‘Kitchen Sink’ painters, nonetheless, in the early-to-mid 1950s, Middleditch, alongside Greaves, Smith and Bratby painted life as they saw it, and – in post-war Britain – that often meant urban deprivation as played out in the domestic environment. Middleditch, perhaps the most troubled by the apparent futility of the war in which he had been forced to serve, despite trying to abstain as a conscientious objector, sought out subjects associated with death and decay, notably of a dead chicken’s corpse in a stream. The distasteful, shocking or disturbing were not shunned but pursued. Like fellow, if occasional, Kitchen Sink group artist, Peter Coker, Middleditch introduced animal carcasses into his work in the early 1950s, including carcasses in situ at a butcher’s shop. Middleditch was evidently inspired in this motif by the gory, visceral carcasses painted by Chaim Soutine (1893-1943) during the 1920s, in which Soutine interrogates the qualities of raw flesh and innards. Closer to home, Francis Bacon’s coursing image of a screaming pope between a split carcass would be produced in 1954, two years after Edward Middleditch’s 'Butcher Meat Porter Carrying a Carcass' of 1952.

In 'Butcher Meat Porter Carrying a Carcass', Middleditch depicts two skinned pig carcasses, one strung up from the ceiling by a leg and the other, eponymous carcass, slung prostrate over the arms of the porter with back legs and hooves upright. The hanging carcass is distended, back legs taut and agape, with ribs visible around its empty, gutted inside. Writing about Middleditch’s imagery, Julian Hartnoll, the famed dealer associated with the Kitchen Sink group, argued that, “Middleditch’s dramatization of the ordinary brings into play a mood that is more religious than political. The centrality of his compositions gives to his mundane imagery an iconic status, a sense of heightened import.” (J. Hartnoll in ex. cat. The Kitchen Sink Painter: John Bratby, Peter Coker, Derrick Greaves, Edward Middleditch and Jack Smith (The Mayor Gallery in association with Julian Hartnoll, 1991), p. 11.) Middleditch’s representation of the strung-up carcass and the carried carcass – as if showing, simultaneously, the progressive stages of hanging and releasing – cannot but evoke iconography of the Deposition of Christ. With outstretched limbs, strained bodies, and the pervasion of slaughter – and perhaps suffering – Middleditch aligns the routine brutality of butchery with the meaningful sacrifice of Christ on the cross. He had, as Hartnoll continues an obsession with the universal conditions of art and of life.