This striking design depicts a mural painted in 1911 or thereabouts for the main hall of Mildmay Radical Club in North London. It seems to have been one of several murals commissioned for arched recesses in the main hall. The club is still going strong, the hall is very much there, but the murals (and indeed the arches) are no longer visible - though it is at least possible that they are concealed under subsequent layers of paint, paper and renovation.
A representation of the mural survives only because it was proudly placed on the cover of the club's half-yearly report and balance sheet (and library catalogue!) for the latter part of 1911. This is on display in a cabinet on the first-floor of the club. Whether the artist, W. White, was a club member or someone commissioned to undertake the murals is not clear.
The design is intriguing - a flat capped working man surrounded by men all with different headgear and working dress who seem to represent international labour: one looks Indian, another perhaps Turkish or North African and the others, well, perhaps Australian and American.
Some of the imagery is puzzling - a curious shaped container, with a dragon's tail, is spilling out jewels and other items of value ... perhaps the wealth that comes from fraternity and cooperation. There's clearly an Imperial angle here, but it's difficult to read the artist's message (if he had one). It is of course very masculine - apart from a rather aethereal likeness of a woman representing, of all things, 'fraternity'. In the foreground there's a beehive, a common representation of useful toil, along with a cornucopia of fruits and flowers.
There are some points of comparison - check out the headgear! - with the socialist Walter Crane's design from some years earlier on the same theme - fraternity.
There's an even more striking analogy with a couple of the plasterwork figures - attributed to Walter Crane - in the grounds of the King's College Library off Chancery Lane, a remarkable series of plaster panels about which I have blogged before:
I am not suggesting that Crane's work provided the model for the Mildmay mural ... but they do have something in common, especially the hats, caps and turbans!
LATER: Prompted by the comment from Felix Driver, an historical geographer who has written about Walter Crane and his depictions of Empire, I am also posting Crane's imperial map - which posits 'fraternity' as well as 'freedom' and 'federation' as the virtues of Empire:
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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