Edward Middleditch’s The River reveals the artist for what he truly was: an exceptional painter dedicated wholly to nature, and one whose work has been grossly undervalued.
Born in Essex in 1923, Middleditch’s career in art began after service in the Second World War, enrolling at the Royal College of Art in 1948. Alongside contemporaries including Derrick Greaves, John Bratby, and Jack Smith, he became one of the leading lights of the ‘Kitchen Sink’ school of painting that defined the British art scene of the early 1950s.
Yet despite being one of the movement’s most talented members, Middleditch remained essentially an outsider. While his colleagues devoted themselves to themes of social and political realism, he was enticed solely by the intrinsic patterns of the natural world: running water, sunlight and shadows, and the abstract forms made by flower heads and rural landscapes.
In The River, a remarkable canvas that perfectly reflects the style Middleditch made his own, this love of organic abstraction is clear to see: wooded rows become a repeated golden frieze, throwing shade across the river banks; dappled sunlight through the trees bounces off the water, casting shimmering circular patterns over the still green surface.
It has been said by those who were closest to the artist that he seldom spoke of his experiences in the war. In the tranquil imagery of paintings like The River, a war-torn mind could well find solace.
Serenely calm and quiet, this is a standout piece from the oeuvre of an otherwise insufficiently celebrated artist.