Sylvia Wederath has a keen eye, a fierce talent and an unswerving dedication to honesty. In an exhibition of her work at the Studio Gallery (420 Seventh St. NW) she focuses all three on the English middle class with results that would make an Anglophile wince.
With a loose brush she lays bare social conventions and destroys any remaining fantasies of the British as aristocratic. She does this not with cruelty but with observation -- though these paintings might seem like caricatures, there is really very little exaggeration here. We've seen these faces before, and we've liked these people, yet we never even noticed what Wederath has noticed -- the little eccentricities of dress, the telltale body positions and gestures.
"The Actor's Outing" is an extraordinary work. Formally masterful, it captures an afternoon at the seaside and a wonderfully unself-conscious middle class that worries not at all about sagging bellies or graying hair. But Wederath is not out for laughs. One has no feeling of being a voyeur, of seeing things that weren't meant to be seen. Instead, there is great dignity in all this humanity.
The artist is not, however, above rearranging things to make a point. "Inundated" shows British women swept up by waves of tea, tradition and biscuits -- a soggy sort of end.
These are strong paintings that make the absurdities of human behavior something we can be rather proud of. They will remain up until March 30.