Robert Baker (1909-1992):
Breakfast at Harlech College, circa 1935
Framed (ref: 6910)
Oil on board
Provenance: Coleg Harlech, Wern Fawr
Exhibited: 'For Real: British Realists from the 20s and 30s', Museum MORE, Gorssel (September 15th, 2019 – January 5th, 2020).
Robert Baker received a commission to produce murals for Coleg Harlech in the mid 1930's, at the instigation of the powerful political insider Dr. Thomas Jones. As a Workers Educational Association, the College was the largest provider of adult community learning in Wales. The scheme comprised a series of panels showing everyday life at the College together with a cycle of murals in the student common room of landscapes with portraits of Welsh 'types'. The largest mural was a modern rendition of The Last Supper, Breakfast at Harlech College. The setting for this was the college canteen, with views of the Cambrian coast, glimpsed through the windows behind. Although all the figures have yet to be identified it is likely that Baker included a self portrait, and cast fellow students in the guise of Christ and his disciples. The picture is bursting with symbolism: the Crucifixion is alluded to by the glazing bars of the window behind Christ, (the figure who offers the bread to Judas). The three greengages on the plate in front of him might also be read as a sign of the Trinity. The bread signifies the communion. The cloth the shroud. Judas refuses to look Jesus in the eye, but rather averts his gaze. Judas has his knife and fork the wrong way round - a traditional reference to the fact that he is left handed (sinistre). In common with Christ he is the only character to have buttons on his cuffs but to Christ's trinity of three he only has two. Jesus sits next to Peter on his left and John on his right. John was a favourite of Jesus, younger than the other disciples and considered naive (qualities suggested by his boyish looks) . Traditionally women were not at the Last Supper - in this painting the Virgin wears blue and a headscarf, and Mary Magdeline is seated next to John. Three empty chairs invite the spectator to fill the places of the three missing (male) disciples. The older figure, turning and gesturing is Thomas (the doubter).
The composition makes interesting comparison with other contemporary paintings which might have been a source of inspiration for Baker - Lotte Laserstein's (1898 - 1993) Abend uber Potsdam, 1930, Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (illustrated below) and The Last Supper by Mark Lancelot Symons (1887-1935), c. 1933, (Reading Art Gallery).
Mark Lancelot Symons (1887-1935), The Last Supper, circa 1933, Reading Art Gallery
Reading Museum & Town Hall