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Empire Day Picture

Sir Frank Bowling

Empire Day Picture, 1988

Sir Frank Bowling is one of the most important international painters, ‘from angst-ridden figurative expressionism to colour modulated abstraction [Bowling has] produced some of the most ambitious and remarkable paintings to emerge in post-war Britain.’[1] 

Born in British Guiana in 1934, his Empire Day Picture recalls the annual celebration started to mark the birthday of Queen Victoria, on 24 May 1902, a year after her death. By 1958, when colonialism was in decline, ‘Empire Day’ was re-named ‘British Commonwealth Day’, and in 1966 it became known as ‘Commonwealth Day’. This event was part of Bowling’s upbringing, and he has strong memories of the ‘Empire Day’ parade which passed by his home on Main Street, New Amsterdam. He made a further three paintings on this theme, called Empire Day Painting, in 1989, 1993 (called Empire Day Painting (Rule Britannia)) and in 2020.

Empire Day Picture is a mature abstract work in which Bowling’s sensuous expression in paint, through colour and texture, creates a visual poetry that has been called ‘material landscapes of the mind.’[2] The landscapes of Guyana left an indelible mark on Bowling’s memory and his paintings represent the light and movement of nature, in the tradition of British landscape painting of Turner and Constable. Bowling’s themes are accessible by their title rather than pictorial reference and as a result the work refuses a social commentary and demands to be experienced as art. Empire Day Picture exemplifies Bowling’s experimental abstraction resulting in a ‘complex terrain and atmospheric lucency of a new modernist sublime.’[3]

An interview with Professor Ben Bowling

Bruce Carnegie-Brown, Chairman of Lloyd’s, speaks to Professor Ben Bowling about the life and work of his father, the artist Sir Frank Bowling.

The Lloyd’s Art Fund

When the current Lloyd’s building was being constructed, the architect’s wife, Ruth Richards – an important collector of contemporary art – persuaded Lloyd’s to start investing in modern art.[4] Such art would complement the innovative architecture of Richard Rogers. 

The Lloyd’s Art Fund was established and works were purchased from the nearby Whitechapel Art Gallery and the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Empire Day Picture was acquired from the Whitechapel Open, 1988.

Empire Day Picture, 1988

Empire Day Picture, 1988

View Empire Day Picture, 1988

Gallery 11

You can see the painting for yourself in the Lloyd’s building on Gallery 11, accessed via Tower 1.


  • [1] Okwui Enwezor, ‘Mappa Mundi: Frank Bowling’s Cognitive Abstraction’ in Frank Bowling: Mappa Mundi, Prestel, Munich, 2017, p.13
  • [2] Mel Gooding, Frank Bowling, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2021, p.14
  • [3] Mel Gooding, ibid., p.16
  • [4] Brian Appleyard, Richard Rogers: A biography, Faber & Faber, London, 1986, p.264