In spite of an elaborate monogram, which appears to include an S and a G, the authorship of this painting remains uncertain. Dr Wendy Baron has noted stylistic similarities to painters of the Camden Town group – especially Malcolm Drummond – but questioned a previous attribution to Sylvia Gilman. (Gilman typically painted under the name Sylvia Meyer and produced very little after she had a child at the end of 1917).
Greater clarity can be ascertained from the usual subject matter. Joy Wheels, which can be traced at key seaside resorts from 1910 and remained a popular novelty into the 1920’s, consisted of a highly polished wooden circular riding platform. Participants packed themselves onto the disc which at first would rotate slowly and gradually increase in speed so that the centripetal force, alongside intermittent braking by the operator, caused people to slide off and be deposited amongst the cushioned circumference area. Fairground employees who were well practised gave demonstrations of how to stay on the disc with composure. The outer circumferences consisted of viewing areas.
On the basis of the fashions depicted this picture can be dated to circa 1920. The key fashion clues here are the shape of the women’s relatively plain dresses with predominantly scooped or v-necklines and their hemlines, most typical of the early-1920s; the brimmed hats and early bob hairstyles, (especially the transitional mode between long and short hair featuring the sides cut short with the length worn in a bun at the back seen for example in the young seated lady in blue to the left). A British Army serviceman in khaki and the peaked cap corroborates this date – there were still many uniformed soldiers around in public in the years immediately following the First World War
In the early 1920s joy wheels could either be traditional travelling versions (usually traveling fairground attractions) or they could be fixed, for example in an amusement park or on a pier. They were popular in England and Ireland and also The United States of America.
We are grateful to Dr Wendy Baron, Jayne Shrimpton, Dingles Fairground Heritage Centre, The National Fairground Archive.
Stanley Spencer, “The Roundabout” (1923)