Helen Bradley (1900-1979)
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Helen Bradley (1900-1979)

The Whitsuntide Procession in Manchester

Helen Bradley (1900-1979)
The Whitsuntide Procession in Manchester
signed 'HELEN BRADLEY' and with a fly (lower right), inscribed 'Father said "I want you all ready by the time I've brought the car round, we're all going to have lunch with Uncle John in his new Bungalow. I will collect Miss Carter (who wore Pink) and Mr Taylor (the Bank Manager), then we'll be off." We were soon ready and on our way to Manchester, but there was one thing we had all forgotten - that today was Whit Friday. Of course, when we got to Piccadilly we had to stop. The Whitsuntide walk was just coming along. It was a most wonderful procession. There were Bands and Banners and everyone wore their new clothes. The procession went on and on and Father began to get very cross. We all thought of Uncle John wondering what had happened to us. And poor Aunt Josephine trying to keep our dinner warm, but it was no use, we had to walk and then slowly drive behind until we came to Kingsway and the year was 1917.' (on the artist's label attached to the backboard)
oil on canvas-board
22 x 36 in. (55.9 x 91.4 cm.)
Painted in 1973.
The artist's studio, no. 53A.
with W.H. Patterson, London.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 24 November 2000, lot 69.
with Richard Green, London.
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Albany Bell
Albany Bell

Lot Essay

The present work is a remarkable and impressive composition, imbued with Bradley’s unique and discerning painterly style. Bradley uses her typical innovative use of changing perspectives, especially in the buildings, which animates the viewer’s eye around the large canvas, navigating the narrative of the scene. Jubilant Union Jacks fly proudly from the rooftops, and we observe a true cross section of society celebrating: policemen contain the onlookers, children frolic and play amongst the crowds, and horses and carts and trams diligently wait for the procession to pass.

Bradley depicts here the traditional Whitsuntide procession along Piccadilly in Manchester in painstaking detail. The Whit Walk illustrated in this painting had beginnings in the early industrial communities of Manchester in the 19th Century. The annual event was initially created by the Church of England to alter the focus of rowdy workers, who would pick fights and bet at the races on the day of rest. Later, the walks instead became a place to celebrate Whitsun, the Christian festival of Pentecost, taking place on the seventh Sunday after Easter. As the first holiday of the summer, Whitsun was one of the popular times in the traditional calendar: it was a time for celebration, which took the form of fêtes, fairs, pageants and parades, with Whitsun ales and Morris dancing in the south of England and Whit walks, Club Days and wakes in the north of England. During these processions, a local band would lead the community through the streets, with the children at the front, as seen in this painting, and girls robed in traditional white dress.

This event, with its religious symbolism and importance for the church, provided the working-class community an opportunity to escape the monotony of long work hours and unappealing living situations. Indeed, after the coming of industrialisation, it became convenient to close down whole towns near Manchester for a week in order to clean and maintain the machinery in the mills and factories. In Bradley’s day, even as late as the 1960s, in industrial communities up to 30,000 people would have been involved in these walks. In the present work, we observe Bradley recollecting a fond and important childhood memory, narrating a scene on which she looks back with keen detail and a sense of tradition.

Helen Bradley’s style and depictions of busy street scenes often see her associated with modern British masters such as L.S. Lowry, whom she met in the 1960s. By 1973, Bradley had reached critical acclaim. Highly successful shows in London and Los Angeles gained her worldwide recognition. In her final years, Bradley was set to receive an MBE from the Queen for her services to the arts but she sadly passed away before she could receive it.

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