The Royal Institute of Oil Painters Annual Exhibition 2018 reveals a common interest among contemporary oil painters in portraying mealtime scenes. As cultural shifts lead people away from regular sit-down meals with family, it’s fascinating to see how these trends are reflected in our exhibition artworks. Several exhibitors portray the anonymity of the worker’s lunch break. Others focus on the intimacy and scope for humour within the age-old ritual of family feasting.

Mall Galleries' Digital Content Creator Beatrice Bowles-Bray went behind the scenes to find out more about the paintings from the artists.

Andrew Farmer is part of a group of regular FBA exhibitors called The Northern Boys, who go on painting trips together. They had planned to paint in London for a few days, and while Andrew was waiting for the other artists to arrive, he painted Lunch at St Pancras. ‘I spotted a solitary figure eating lunch on the concrete benches outside the station and felt that sudden urge to get painting. From my time studying in London I could see myself in the figure - that need to get away by myself for some quiet time.’

Lunch at St Pancras by Andrew Farmer: Oil, 40 x 50 cm - £450

‘The painting evolved rapidly; more figures were added as they came and went through the station. I wanted to convey the feeling of isolation I feel when I'm in the city, as well as a sense of being happy in one’s own company, but the painting could be read in a multitude of ways. I'm always conscious of leaving enough to the imagination that viewers can project themselves into the composition.’

Robin Mackervoy ROI is also a member of the Wapping Group of Artists, who paint scenes of London and its river. ‘There are small pockets of calm and rest in London’, Robin says, ‘green spaces where office workers relax with friends or reflect away from the bustle. Aside from Spitalfields, my favourite spots for observing this are Southwark and St Pauls cathedrals.’

Lunchtime, Spitalfields by Robin Mackervoy ROI: Oil, 40 x 35 cm - £600

‘The juxtaposition of tall architecture with the natural shapes of tree and grass, and warm colours against cool colours, together with varieties of light and shade, provided the setting. The eating figures adds a story within a story, and they stand out for their smallness in the grand scale of the scene.’ 

In contrast to these scenes of diners dwarfed by the magnitude of their built environment, other works of art in the ROI Annual Exhibition 2018 look back to the tradition of families eating together.

Fish Supper by Susan Bower RBA ROI: Oil, 43 x 49 cm - £2,200

‘I frequently paint people eating and drinking, often with my pets looking on’, says Susan Bower RBA ROI. ‘I have four children and six grandchildren and seem to spend a lot of my time cooking for them all!’ Fish Supper reflects Susan’s love of seafood. ‘Living in Yorkshire near to the east coast we have access to wonderful fish and have had countless fish suppers over the years’, she says.

Susan’s mealtime scenes are often inflected with humour. Going Vegan comically touches upon the tricky topic of special dietary requirements. ‘My daughter is a staunch vegetarian but my husband is a dedicated carnivore’, she says, which no doubt makes life around the dinner table complicated. ‘I’m just relieved Georgie didn’t go Vegan’, she adds. Susan’s minimalist composition allows the viewer to imagine the bemusement on the faces of the waiter and diners, the empty table an indication of their struggle to find vegan options on the menu.

Going Vegan by Susan Bower RBA ROI: Oil, 46 x 50 cm - £2,200

La Colazione, Tuscany shows a family at breakfast, with a view of the Tuscan landscape in the background. ‘Early mornings in Tuscany have a gentle light and warmth that has created a special setting for this composition’, says Pier Luigi Baffoni Hon Sen ROI. ‘I find the subject of people eating together inspiring because of the atmosphere of pleasure. Such scenes also provide great variety for the artist - a combination of figure, still life, and even landscape painting!’

La Colazione, Tuscany by Pier Luigi Baffoni Hon Sen ROI: Oil, 66 x 91 cm - £3,500

Although these paintings present the act of eating in different styles and from different perspectives, each recognises that, at a basic level, eating is an opportunity to engage with the wider world. That could mean sharing our space with strangers or demonstrating the world’s largeness by our comparative smallness. It could also signify the special shrinkage that occurs when a family dining room comes to feel like the whole world.

Discover the exhibition online now to see how other artists have touched on the theme of food and more. The ROI Annual Exhibition is open at Mall Galleries from 28 November to 9 December 2018. To purchase a work of art contact or call 020 7930 6844.

Browse the Exhibition Catalogue