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Tuesday 26 May 2020

Collection Focus – Wedding at Twickenham Church

Volunteer Will brings us the first of two analyses into an incredibly popular piece from the collection – Osmund Caine’s Wedding at Twickenham Church.

This strikingly playful oil painting by Osmund Caine from 1948 is likely to arrest the gaze of Twickenham locals for a number of reasons.

For a start, regular users of the St Mary’s Church footpath (the one connecting Riverside to Church Street, here shown closest to the viewer) will spot immediately the differences in scale and positioning between Caine’s depiction and how things stand in reality. For one thing, the distinctive gravestone of Joseph Hickey, a noted Irish solicitor and father of memoirist William Hickey, appears to be about twice as tall as any person nearby, while the remainder of Church Street in the background sits on an unrecognisably steep hill. The colour palette, meanwhile, is bold, broad and bright almost to the point of parody. Even on the clearest of days, looking down Church Street from here is scarcely as vibrant.

It’s not that the piece isn’t without notes of realism. Shadows, including those of the street’s left-hand-side buildings, are remarkably precise and consistent. Inanimate objects, such as the gravestones, hold much greater definition than anything living, helping to give a sense of motion and pace to the human subjects. The bride and groom, despite being at the very centre of the painting – in more ways than one – are some of the most obscured and undetailed figures within it. Indeed, while Caine has taken great care in giving the bride’s veil and dress an authentic, windswept look, he has left her face completely absent, which arguably makes sense given the angle and the couple’s direction of travel.

But next to Caine’s other works, often near-photographic in terms of scale and colour, this one is curiously dreamlike. There’s also a darker interpretation to be had when one looks more closely. The bride’s ghostly outerwear; the couple’s lack of facial detail; the grave next to Hickey’s adorned with Caine and his wife’s names. Can we even be certain whether the car waiting out front is a limousine or a hearse? That fact that Mary Caine was very much alive in 1948 might neutralise some of the spookiness, but her husband was no amateur at this point in his career, concurrently holding a day job at Kingston School of Art, and later teaching at Twickenham College of Technology (now Richmond upon Thames College). Sweet dream or beautiful nightmare? The truth probably lurks somewhere in between.

Will Dix

As a lifelong visitor to art galleries and museums all around the world, volunteering with Orleans House Gallery has given me a fascinating glimpse of how things work on the inside. Writing about the collection, meanwhile, has allowed me to explore multiple aspects of local history, such as the borough’s architectural evolution and its many colourful former residents. Alongside Orleans House, my favourite galleries and exhibition spaces include London’s National Portrait Gallery, Amsterdam’s FOAM and New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The second analysis of this scene, by our volunteer Madeleine, will follow next week – keep looking at our News page for more gallery features, interviews and activities.

You could have your own Collection Focus post featured as a volunteer – visit our Volunteering page to sign up.