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In the Frame for November 2011: Peter Nolan Lawrence’s ‘Beach Party with Grandfather’

A recent genealogical enquiry from an indirect relative of Wilmot Ferdinand Maine (1880-1947) has inspired the Archivist to choose Peter Nolan Lawrence’s Beach Party with Grandfather as this month’s featured picture. Lawrence was one of Maine’s grandchildren, and in 1993 donated both the picture and a photograph of his grandfather (dressed vaudeville-style as ‘The Rajah of Chutney-pore’ for a music hall production of the early twentieth century entitled The Nautch Girl) to Bethlem’s Archives & Museum.

According to Lawrence’s own notes, Beach Party with Grandfather depicts Wilmot Maine dressed in green, his features drawn from the photograph, as he ‘totters under the spell of the whisky he drank to anaesthetise his fore-brain and forget his mad folly’ in the company of contemporary stalwarts of the Chiswick Empire theatre and – for good measure and in an imaginative leap – of the British and Chinese Empires. At first sight, writes the artist, it is ‘a frolicsome picture but one with a sinister meaning…All seem to be having a good time, but is not the beach overcrowded? Will overpopulation drive us into the sea?’

Still, this picture is possessed of too much pop-art naïveté and sheer joie de vivre to be understood (in the phrase used elsewhere by the artist) as ‘a painting of Armageddon’. Its creator once laconically described himself as ‘an extreme, long-cycling bipolar manic on lithium and haloperidol’ who was ‘proud of his hypomanic condition, his three dynamic sons and of his wonderful, long-suffering wife’.1 Though never a patient at Bethlem Hospital, he was in the 1990s a volunteer at its Community Centre Library, and nowhere is his irrepressible good humour more apparent than in the artwork now held here at the Archives & Museum.