Patrick Caulfield’s main subject as a painter was the blissful, occasionally transcending melancholy of human absence and solitude. The bars and restaurants and other social spaces he painted were famously devoid of people. The “exit” sign that is the focus of one of his later paintings called Happy Hour is the direction in which his fellow-drinkers have all already headed. The figure reflected in the single filled glass at the centre of the canvas is the painter pursuing his solitary practice. . . .

Caulfield, who died last year and would have been 70 this month, was an urbanite, with no taste for the pastoral in art or in life, or for the trappings of country living. When he was invited to choose from works in the National Gallery for the Artist’s Eye series in 1986, he ruled out religious pictures (“I didn’t want paintings of angels”) and concentrated on paintings that reflected his interest in urban imagery. Half his selection was drawn from the gallery’s basement, the repository of paintings that are, on the whole, considered less remarkable than the ones in the grand rooms. The still lifes of drink and food, and scenes set in music halls and taverns, tended to be equally modest. Lunch-time, the painting of his own that Caulfield chose to include, was typical of his sense of humour in that there’s no food to be found in it. It shows the nicotined corner of a city pub decorated with a pot of geraniums and generic bric-a-brac, and crowded with deep, all-too-solid shadows.

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