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Tuesday 2 June 2020

Collection Focus – Wedding at Twickenham Church

Following on from last week’s Collection Focus, volunteer Madeleine discusses the life of Osmund Caine and offers another view on his work, Wedding at Twickenham Church.

Osmund Caine (1914-2004)

Osmund Caine, 1914-2004, was a British painter, teacher, stained-glass designer and, most importantly, a valued member of our community who, for nearly 20 years, ran the Twickenham School of Art. Born in Manchester in 1914, the eldest of six children, Caine went on to study at the Birmingham School of Art and engaged in a long career within the art world, which was only interrupted by war service in the military police.

In 1958, Caine became the founder and head of the Twickenham College of Technology’s graphic design school and, whilst he was dedicated to the ‘traditional’ artistic methods, he was a strong advocate of using innovative techniques and introduced illustration, exhibition and graphic design, typography and photography into the curriculum. Throughout his teaching career, Caine continued to produce stained-glass designs and paintings.

Most bizarrely, Osmund Caine was once credited with the invention of the bikini! In 1966, the Daily Telegraph reported that Caine was the inventor of the bikini, and used his painting Bathing Beach (1938) as a reference, which illustrates three sunbathers on an English beach showing off their midriffs.

Stanley Spencer was a major influence in Caine’s work and there are various parallels between the two artists’ work. Within Caine’s ‘Wedding at Twickenham Church’, 1948, the influence is evident. Spencer would often feature himself within his own works (see The Resurrection, Cookham (1923-7) by Stanley Spencer), and here within Caine’s 1948 work, his name, as well as his wife’s, is gently etched onto one of the tombstones directly facing the viewer. Alongside this, the other parallels between the two 20th-Century British artists include subject matter, linework and colours used. For example, much of Caine’s work addresses spiritual themes, as does Spencer’s.

Osmund Caine’s stained-glass designs were mostly private commissions for memorial windows, and often involved portraits of saints and other traditional subject matter. Some of his stained-glass work is located in the Birmingham Museum of Art. The design featured below, which depicts the story of Gethsemane in the New Testament of the Bible, can be viewed within the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery collection and is dated as having been completed 1949-60.

Caine’s last solo retrospective was at the Orleans House Gallery in 1998, and he remained an enthusiastic member of the Orleans House community until his death in 2004.

Wedding at Twickenham Church, 1948

Wedding at Twickenham Church, 1948, is one of two paintings completed by Caine and held by the Richmond Borough Art Collection (see Trowlock Island, 1951). The work is a vivacious and colourful oil painting depicting a wedding scene in front of Twickenham Parish Church.

At first glance, unlike the more traditional, landscape paintings featured within the collection, Wedding at Twickenham Church feels chaotic and disorganised. Whilst the viewer is able to make out the clear focal point of the piece, the bride and groom leaving the church, due to the stark white of the bride’s dress and flowing veil and their central positioning, the overall composition of Caine’s work disorientates the viewer. The perspective employed by Caine is almost birdseye; we are not situated within the piece, rather we are looking onto it, and the piece as a whole is incredibly deep and three-dimensional. Alongside this, the angle of the churchyard pathway, from where we are observing, is sharp and harsh. The pathway juts out from beneath us and so we find ourselves watching the spectators just as much as the bride and groom. The winding road located in the background completely adds to this feeling. The winding nature of the road juxtaposed with the angular, linear positioning of the churchyard pathway feels unbalanced.

However, the road, and the car, in the background and the pathway both lead to the archway, where a car is waiting to pick up the newly-weds. In turn, this leads our eyes to the wedding car and then across the central plane where the two spectators watch in the archway, then to the bride and groom, and finally the tombstone where Caine and his wife’s names are engraved. My point here is that, although a piece may seem chaotic, disorganised and unbalanced, the artist is doing this with a purpose; in picking apart the composition, the piece suddenly becomes much more organised and carefully put together to the naked eye.

Also worth taking note of within Caine’s oil painting is the scale of the figures. Wedding at Twickenham Church has an incredibly clear foreground, middleground and background and whilst the scale of the figures usually indicates the importance of the figures depicted or points towards a focal point, this is not the case in Caine’s work. Naturally, the figures furthest away from us are smaller. The newlyweds and the two women stood by the arch of the churchyard’s entrance are relatively small in comparison to the figures spectating within the foreground. Here, the colours employed by Caine work with the scale of the figures to direct our eye to the focal point; the wedding taking place. As I have touched upon previously, the bright white of the bride’s dress instantly catches the viewer’s eye and then, naturally, we look to her groom. However, Caine also makes sure to direct our attention to the bride and groom through the dark and muted colours seen within the two central spectators’ dress. Instantly our eye searches for something more vibrant and enticing!

The same technique is employed through the dress of the figures located in the foreground. Interestingly, although Caine employs a bright yellow on one of the two women who look on at the right-hand side of the frame, the woman leaning over the rails on her right features a much more muted peach tone. The function of the brightly dressed spectator here is, I believe, to further direct us to Caine’s focal point. Unlike the other figures placed on the path, Caine makes sure to include her facial features and, by doing so, we are directed to exactly what she is looking at.

In conclusion, this vivacious piece by Osmund Caine is incredibly multi-faceted and three-dimensional and requires the viewer to look past the initial chaos to fully understand it. Caine manipulates the space on the canvas effectively, especially through the lack of framing around the piece, and creates a deep composition with numerous elements. The birdseye perspective employed grants the viewer access to delve further into each of these elements whilst also heightening the busy atmosphere. Ultimately Caine’s work captures both the excitement and the orderly chaos found in any wedding or occasion!

Madeleine Luxton

I have recently graduated from the University of East Anglia with a degree in History and History of Art. I am thoroughly enjoying my time exploring the art world and have already become enamoured with one of London’s hidden gems – Orleans House Gallery! Volunteering at Orleans House Gallery has allowed me to meet fellow art enthusiasts and to broaden my passion in helping the art world become much more accessible. My favourite artists are Edouard Manet, Diego Rivera, Robert Rauschenberg and Tracey Emin.

Wedding at Twickenham Church is featured as part of our exhibition, Beyond the Frame. You can read our ‘In Conversation’ articles with the exhibiting artists here.

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