Although I am very interested in later Victorian, Edwardian and post WW1 art, I was not familiar with Scottish artist William Strang (1859–1921) until 2004. That was the year The Edwardians: Secrets and Desires, an amazing exhibition, visited the National Gallery of Australia.
There were several very popular themes in the exhibition, but the social customs associated with Afternoon Tea were fascinating. This is a theme I have looked at before, in A History of Tea Rooms and the Suffragettes and Emanuel Phillips Fox - an Australian Impressionist. The exhibition essay suggested that the joy of easy outdoors eating was such that many artists were drawn to this subject, from the French Impressionists to E Phillips Fox in Alfresco 1904 and Déjeuner c1910.
Strang, Bank Holiday, 1912, Tate, 153 x 123 cm
I think indoor eating was less free, more telling. As can be seen in Blog of an Art Admirer and a History Lover.
Just before WW1, Strang painted group portraits of young moderns wearing fashionable outfits, playing out their courting rituals. In Bank Holiday 1912 (Tate), Strang suggested the young couple were just starting their courting, still uncertain of what to expect. The flowers, unwrapped, lie awkwardly on the chair. Apparently Strang created a deliberately understated image, leaving it all ambiguous enough so that the individual viewer could weave his own story. My own guess was that the young lady was a little too keen on making eye contact with her partner; the young man was a little too focused on ordering the scones.
It is appropriate that Donald Read’s book, Edwardian England, selected this very painting for the front cover.