The Toussaint Miniatures

From time to time I get commissions that are a little out of the ordinary. A case in point occurred a couple of months ago. The New York Historical Society – a very prestigious organisation – approached me with a request – would I paint a facsimile of one of their miniature portraits dating from the mid 1700’s? Apparently they will be mounting two exhibitions at one time. I was very happy to oblige. It is always a challenge to reproduce another artist’s work as; of course, every artist has his own unique style. This, therefore, is my facsimile of Augustin Brunais’s miniature portrait of Dominique Francois Toussaint L’Ouverture - painted in 1797.

This commission was followed by two more – these by a different artist – Anthony Meucci, who had painted miniature portraits of Mr and Mrs Pierre Toussaint in 1825. It was extremely difficult to match the colours and styles exactly (including the blemishes), bearing in mind that initially I was only given computer images via email. But eventually good colour images were sent by mail so I was able to make exact facsimiles. Here are my two paintings: (all three have just been given permission by the curator of the New York to be shown here on my blog)

Currently I’m working on a large watercolour painting of a raven-haired lady playing the saxophone. I’m really enjoying painting the contrasts between the shine and reflections of the sax with her face and the clothes and jewellery she’s wearing.

Last week Jane celebrated her birthday so five of us went to the French Horn in Sonning for lunch. It’s a great restaurant (Last week Michael Winner – well-known for his culinary expertise – championed the restaurant’s marvellous bread and butter pudding). It was a glorious day and the autumn tints were spectacular. Here are Jane, Brian, Norma and Jack standing outside in the sunshine,

It’s been a pretty good week for sunshine and I rowed down the river last Friday evening, stopping just past the bridge to have tea with John and Kate Hutchinson. That’s one of the nice things about the river – popping in to see riparian living friends from time to time. On Saturday afternoon my young friend and I took ‘Marsh Mundy ‘ out for a trip up to Hambleden lock. Hardly anything on the river that day. But as we returned to my mooring I suddenly found the steering had stuck! All I could do was to reverse quickly, which positioned the boat near enough to grab the upright, while I switched off the engine. After tying up I wondered whether weed had wrapped itself around the propeller so raised the propeller arm. No weed was evident, but the arm wouldn’t go down again! Yesterday Ivan, the boatman, came over and managed a temporary fix, but it means that sometime this week the boat will have to be craned out of the water for a proper repair – and to see what is wrong with the steering.

Last Thursday evening we went to see Paul’s show in Camberley. Giving ourselves plenty of time – I even cooked dinner early – we aimed to be there about half an hour before the show, but at only three miles from the venue we became stuck in a long traffic jam on the A30, which made us frustratingly 20 minutes late. Both Paul’s son Martin and Debbie were performing magic too. Paul and Debbie really do work hard – they’ve only just returned from a month long stay at the Edinburgh Festival, and now here they are on a 39 performance tour travelling the length and breadth of the country.

Saturday evening was the Hennerton Backwater ‘Bash’ in the Grandstand at Phyllis Court. A really good time was had by all. It has become a tradition to have a ‘frog’ race where we all have to partake by holding on to a large cut-out frog and by wiggling the attached string, aim to reach the other side of the room first. I got to the semi-finals but failed in the finals. David, who was sitting at our table won. (I’m not sure I would have wanted to keep the trophy - it's a bit ugly - for one year anyway!)

I did a stupid thing the other day. Henley’s Literary Festival starts tomorrow and I have booked tickets for about eight of the events over the next few days. It goes on till Sunday. My sister-in-law, Val, rang me on Friday evening to ask why I hadn’t been to the Alan Tichmarsh event at the River and Rowing Museum which she’d just come back from. ‘Because it’s next Friday’ I said. I’d got it wrong, as apparently his event was an addition prior to the start of the Festival. I felt a complete fool, and was sorry to deprive my young friend as well because we both had tickets. Never mind, I’ll be there tomorrow, and on Thursday will be introducing Vince Hill at Le Parisienne when he’ll be talking about his life and book ‘Another Hill to Climb’.

Sunday afternoon I decided to visit a few of my haunts from my childhood days, so we drove over to find the two lakes - Kingsmere and Queensmere near Finchampstead. Both seemed to have disappeared. (I rang a friend who lived nearby who told me that both were now part of big private estates). I remember clearly seeing cars being driven over the ice covered Kingsmere in the hard winter of 1947, and Queensmere was the lake I launched the twin- seater kayak I’d made in 1954. Never mind, we found a lake called Heathpool, which we walked around. My young friend took this picture of one of the swans with her new (big zoom) camera.

On the way home we called into Joel Park in Wokingham – the scene of my defeat by the (girl) leader of the Rose Street gang when I was a boy. It was Joel Park that I mapped, again as an impecunious boy, and sold copies – all drawn by hand – for threepence each.