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Virtual Exhibition - Masterworks - The Lambeth Walk

Virtual Exhibition - Masterworks - The Lambeth Walk

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The Lambeth Walk (detail)
© Estate of Norman Maurice Kadish
The Lambeth Walk (detail)

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The Lambeth Walk (1939-1949)


The Lambeth Walk was begun as a finals project at Regent Street ‘Poly’. ‘Doing the Lambeth Walk’ was all the rage at the time, a dance craze inspired by the Cockney song and dance routine in the hit musical Me and My Girl (West End play 1937, movie 1939). The picture was not completed until after the Second World War, so preliminary studies and the probable cartoon are lost.

However, we do know that the elderly woman in the white dress, green coat and matching hat, one half of the pair immediately behind the exuberant young couple who are leading the dance, was Mrs Eggett, the Kadish family housekeeper. She brought up the artist and his younger brother Esmond while their mother, a pioneer schoolmistress, the only woman on the staff of several East End boys’ schools, was out at work. The Kadish family cat, Binkie, sits under the chair at left. The other characters in the picture, including the musicians, were models, some paid by the artist to sit for him.

The architecture of the late Victorian mansion blocks that form the backdrop was based on flats in Stoke Newington where, after the war, the artist went to make studies of typical London brickwork. This setting was not dissimilar from that used by Bill Brandt in his photograph of the same subject that first appeared in Picture Post in 1943. NMK kept a pile of this illustrated magazine in his studio, but it is not known whether he saw that particular issue while he was in the Army.

Like the photographer, he utilised a drainpipe and the large rectangular sash window openings on both floors of the building as principal elements in his composition. The mischievous schoolboys are shinning up the pipe, encouraged by their chums leaning out of the upstairs window, much to the annoyance of the woman in the flat below. The windows frame the faces and activities of other onlookers, although the man drinking tea appears oblivious to the commotion outside. A self-portrait of the artist with his palette appears in a ground-floor window at the far right hand side of the canvas.

The painting was shown at the overflow Crowded Out Royal Academy Summer Exhibition held in Blackpool in 1950. A few years later, when it was shown at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters 70th Exhibition in London’s Piccadilly, it was picked up by the noted Parisian journal La Revue Moderne des Arts et de la Vie. NMK was amongst those lucky exhibitors invited to submit some particulars and photographs for a ‘biographical review’. The Lambeth Walk was featured on the front cover of the magazine and, inside, there was a glowing write-up: ‘Sa production artistique est extrêmement diverse… la verve… animé ses diverses oeuvres…. Son inspiration est traditionelle. Il joint la virtuosité à l’imagination’ [‘His artistic output is extremely diverse… verve… animates his diverse works…. His inspiration is traditional. He combines virtuosity with imagination’] (1 February 1958).

In 1986, The Lambeth Walk was shown at the prestigious Mall Galleries, followed by the Royal Festival Hall, for the Greater London Council's ‘The Spirit of London’ Art Competition.