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Robert Baker (1909-1992):
The College Library, circa 1932
Framed (ref: 6331)
Oil on panel
53 1/2 x 38 in. (136 x 96.5 cm)
Provenance: Harlech College - Wern Fawr
Literature:W. Rothenstein, Since Fifty p.299.
Following on from the success of the Morley College Murals, painted by Charles Mahoney, Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious, Rothenstein kept looking for opportunities for his Royal College of Art students to repeat this triumph. In 1930 Robert Baker,(RCA 1929-1932), and Edward Payne, (RCA 1924) were offered the village hall at Woodgreen in Hampshire, to decorate and paint scenes of local daily life. This project, funded by a Liberal politician Vaughan Nash, was in line with ideas of the special value of rural life at the time.
Baker was subsequently given another commission in the early 1930's, instigated by the powerful political insider Thomas Jones, to paint murals at the Welsh working men’s college, Coleg Harlech, a Workers Educational Association, the largest provider of adult community learning in Wales. The college was built for George Davison, who was the English agent for Kodak, by his favourite architect George Walton (of Glasgow). It is a rugged form of classicism with fantastic views over Harlech bay.
The murals, produced in situ in the dining hall, consisted of portraits of Welsh 'types' painted on piers projecting into the room, between which Baker created two landscape panoramas. The scheme, (which included a bard called Carneddau who lived at the top of a mountain that Baker had to climb in order to visit him) is referenced to in W. Rothenstein, Since Fifty p.299.
A second series of murals, consisting of eleven detachable pictures, (five of which were portrait format and six of which were landscape format), showed scenes from the daily life of the school, based on a loose narrative sequence of the young miner leaving home to go to the college and his subsequent experience there. Rothenstein refers to these as being painted by Baker 'for his own pleasure,' outside the £200 fee he had from Tom Jones, and certainly the overall mood of the cycle is one of joy and animation. The scheme culminates in a panoramic Last Breakfast, (otherwise known as Eggs and Bacon) which depicts Christ and his disciples in the guise of Coleg Harlech staff and students breakfasting in the College Canteen, the landscape of the Cambrian Coast clearly visible in the background. Either side of this central composition were four arch top panels, representing staff in the Library, staff in the Common Room, students in a dormitory and students preparing for a theatrical performance.