True to Life? revisited

'Spray' by Harold Williamson, part of the exhibition True To Life: British Realist Painting From The 1920s To The 1930s

'Spray' by Harold Williamson, part of the exhibition True To Life: British Realist Painting From The 1920s To The 1930s

I like this painting: I have it on the small mirror (not even a compact, but it's Britain so you pay more and get less) that is a 'souvenir' of the British realism exhibition currently running in Edinburgh. It's 1939, so the woman is wearing a Lastex two-piece bathing suit (we are told in the catalogue) -- a stretchy fabric made from latex threads with genuine a textile wrapped around them. Beats wool for swimming, anyway, which is what they wore in the previous decade. There is something delightful about the woman's athletic, even muscularly defined, body -- not simply posing for the viewer but just enjoying life, responding to nature, her back turned to us. The problem is that response doesn't seem justified by her context. The spray, surely, could hardly reach her. Those rocks she's on: they look awfully high. To my eyes, she's on a high cliff, not at the water's edge. Try as I might even to see it as a tidal pool, I just can't. Unless she has the bravery -- or folly -- to dive into the sea from a great height, the whole thing seems odd. She is a bather, but where's the beach? Which goes to show that realists might be convincing but they are not necessarily truthful.