This photograph shows a porcelain kitchen sink in close-up. In the sink are a plate, a cup, a cream pitcher, a knife and two glass bottles. The spout of a metal teakettle at the right of the photo counterbalances the metal faucet in the upper left corner.

Margaret Watkins

(Hamilton, Ontario, 1884 – Glasgow, Scotland, 1969)

 

The Kitchen Sink

about 1919

Palladium print

21.3 x 16.4 cm

Purchased in 1984 with the assistance of a grant from the Government of Canada under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act

National Gallery of Canada, 20629

© Joe Mulholland, Glasgow, Scotland. Photo: National Gallery of Canada


The Kitchen Sink is a still life with an unusual subject: a sink full of dirty dishes. Margaret Watkins used commonplace objects to create a lively composition dominated by diagonal lines and plays of shadow and light. Some of the containers brim with stagnant water and food residue. This work questions the notion of home as a woman’s place that must be kept spotless at all times, especially when shown to outsiders. “Domesticated to death,” as she once described herself, Watkins points to how hard it was for women in her day to free themselves from that role and gain independence.


Margaret Watkins left Hamilton, Ontario, in 1908 to study photography in the United States. Settling in New York in 1915, she brought a modern aesthetic to her work as a commercial photographer. In 1928, Watkins abandoned her successful career and moved to Glasgow, Scotland. Shortly before her death, she entrusted all of her photographs to a friend, Joseph Mulholland. Her work was largely forgotten by then, but Mulholland revived it by mounting several exhibitions. Watkins’s contribution to the history of Canadian photography was officially recognized in 2013 when Canada Post issued a stamp featuring The Kitchen Sink.

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