London, Ontario, artist Jack Chambers (1931–1978) began this painting in July 1969, just before he learned he had leukemia. The painting remained unfinished at his death in 1978, though he had worked on it steadily and even showed it in his 1970 retrospective exhibition, where it was called “Sunday Noon.” In this domestic scene with heightened meaning, Chambers presides at the head of the family table, a rare self-portrait and his only family one that includes all four members. It is an image of anticipation: the table is set but the meal has not yet begun; there is an empty chair to the artist’s right.


Jack Chambers, Lunch, 1969 (unfinished)

Jack Chambers, Lunch, 1969 (unfinished)

Oil and synthetic paint on wood, 197.9 x 182.9 cm, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

As so often happens in Chambers’s work, the everyday is transcended. Given his Catholicism—to which he converted while a student in Madrid—echoes of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) are hard to deny. We should not therefore assume that Chambers casts himself as Christ. Lunch—initially titled “Sunday Lunch”—is in theme and execution akin to his Sunday Morning pictures, in each of which his family’s relationship to the divine is broached.


Lunch provided another challenge for the artist: his wife, Olga, asked that he give it to her. Chambers, however, was set on providing as good a financial legacy for his family as possible. That it remained unfinished meant that he did not have to choose between these family priorities.


This Spotlight is excerpted from Jack Chambers Life & Work by Mark A. Cheetham.

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