Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Royal Flueologist

Last Friday evening I went to a very special dinner at the invitation of Michael Skinner. The Windsor, Eton & District Royal Warrant Holders Association were holding their Annual Dinner at The Guildhall in Windsor.
Amongst the 100 guests were many holders of this rather special Warrant. The President, who made a very witty and amusing speech, is in fact the Queen’s Chimney Sweep. With tongue in cheek, I’m sure, he styles himself as ‘The Flueologist'

The Guildhall was designed by Sir Thomas Fitz in 1687, but because he died before it was finished, Sir Christopher Wren oversaw the completion two years later. The building has an open ground floor supported on columns and arches of Portland stone where a corn market was held. However the four columns in the middle of he Guildhall are purely decorative as the town burghers demanded extra supporting pillars for safety reasons, despite Wren’s assurances that none were needed. Although these were installed Wren had the last laugh as he left a gap at the top (described by Chris Ginnett, one of the speakers at the dinner as being ‘the width of a Cumberland sausage’). I took this rather grainy picture of the columns as we left at the end of the evening.
While relating this story Chris Ginnett said that at the end of his speech he would ask all of the assembled company to stand on our chairs and at the word of command to all jump to the floor (We were directly over the non-supporting pillars). This, he said would result in one of three things. 1. Nothing would happen. 2. The floor would shake a bit. Or 3. We’d all go crashing down to the ground! He also said that the room we were dining in could support 100 people, and as we were 102 on that evening he hoped the other two were thin people. We didn’t chance it so remained seated. It was a lovely evening, with very amusing speeches, great food and for me a great pleasure to be surrounded by so many beautiful portraits of Royalty past and present. During the pre-dinner reception I met several men wearing their Malaya GSMedals, so having had mine in my top pocket, I joined these old soldiers and sported my own.
As we were leaving I suggested to Michael that I’d really like to paint a portrait of the ‘Royal Flueologist’ in his working gear - in other words with a battered black top hat set at a jaunty angle and smudges of soot on his face.
With so many interesting and talented people at the dinner, ranging form the Queen’s Vet to Her Majesty’s Groom, I also suggested that a dinner where everyone wore ‘the clothes of their trade, would be such a wonderful and colourful affair.

I finished my sepia painting of Jane wearing a black lace blouse the other day. Hopefully, together with the large pencil drawing of Rolf Harris and probably an oil or large watercolour I have in mind, by next spring I’ll have my three pictures ready for submission to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Exhibition in London.

It’s always lovely to meet old friends you haven’t seen in a while, so it was great to pick up Val and drive over to Joanne’s in the Cotswolds on Sunday for a sumptuous lunch where Ben Salter and Katinka were already there. Ben is an old friend from boyhood days. He joined the RAF and became the purser on the Queen’s flight for many years. While based in Singapore in the seventies a tragedy befell them and they were wonderfully looked after by Joanne and Chris Dalston – Chris being the CO and Wing Commander there at the time. Katinka has recently arrived back from the USA to be with Ben, so we had a really good time reliving some of the very happy times we all had together.

The Wentworh Wooden Jigsaw Company has just, this week, launched their Christmas selection. Amongst them is the painting I did several years ago of ‘Cobwebs in the Barn’. The original painting depicted an old barn belonging to my friend, Sue Webb. She remarked at the time that she, her family and ancestors had lived in the seventeen century cottage next to the barn for many years and she’d never before noticed the little snow-covered cottage seen through the barn windows. (I told her later that, using artist’s licence, I’d made it up!) If you are interested in getting a copy of the jigsaw puzzle, here's a link

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Massacre of the Innocents

My young friend and I went to a very interesting lecture and dinner at Phyllis Court Club last Tuesday evening. Siobhan Clarke and Jacquie Clemson were talking about paintings in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, and art in the Tudor period. Most fascinating was the description of Pieter Bruegel’s ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ where we saw x-ray pictures showing how all the dead or captured children had been over painted to resemble animals or other objects.

Amongst several other portraits from the period we were also shown Van Dyck’s triple portrait of King Charles Ist. Painted in three aspects, it was intended to be used as the basis for a sculptured head.
What a good evening that was as both lecturers knew their subjects well. The meal was very nice too.

The weekend dawned bright and gloriously sunny and as I had planned to visit my old friend Vic Granger and his wife Christine in Norfolk for a couple of days, I decided to spend a few hours at Duxford on Friday as it was on the way. Duxford, in Cambridgeshire, is a branch of The Imperial War Museum and during its 40 years as an operational RAF station was home to thousands of young servicemen and women. There’s so much to see there with its world-renowned collection of aircraft and vehicles, and as they were preparing for the big air show on Sunday I saw a lot of the practice flights and aeronautics. The Spitfire is my favourite plane, and Duxford owns several.(I’m hoping to make a three-foot wooden model of a Spitfire this winter).

One of the large hangars contains the iconic Concorde 101, another favourite of mine. Sadly I never flew with it but on this occasion went on board.
Wandering around the many hangars I took photographs of several of the marvellous aircraft and the wartime control room. Here’s just a few:

During the war my mother used to take us to her bedroom window from time to time where we saw a VI rocket, or Doodlebug as we called them, on its way to bomb London. They have a couple at Duxford. Here’s one on its launch pad.

One of the largest and most famous aircraft to operate from Duxford is the Boeing B17 Flying Fortress, Sally B, star of the film Memphis Belle.
As you can see this stunning aircraft has a rather saucy (well I expect it was when it was painted) picture of a naked lady adorning the fuselage.

Later this year I’m intending to paint my own version of Sally B but depicting the charms of my very favourite model, Joceline.

Soon after I arrived at Vic and Christine’s home I pottered down the lane to see old Joe. Joe owns a very rustic farm full of turkeys, ducks, chickens and nine dogs. He also has a number of large Shire horses. When he called them by name they all came ambling towards the barn.
Joe ploughs his fields sitting behind four of these magnificent beasts and often gives demonstrations. However six months ago he became a victim of his own machinery. He offered a young lad the chance to sit with him while he worked a field with the horses. It seems that when they stopped to unhitch the team one of them suddenly pulled back, catapulting Joe off his seat. He tried to grab the reigns, but the young lad (no fault of his) had left them dangling over the other side, and not where Joe always leaves them when they unhitch. Consequently Joe was dragged under this evil looking piece of equipment as the horses moved forward.

His leg snapped at the thigh and his arm was almost torn off. But after many weeks in hospital and a number of skin grafts Joe recovered. Here he is now.

Unfortunately it was the left arm which was mutilated – the arm that Joe paints with. Joe is an artist too. He paints what he knows best – horses. This is a print from one of his paintings. The reflection from a studio light doesn’t help, but you can see what a good artist he is. I’m amazed at his method. He paints in oils and when he starts a picture has no real idea of what the end result will be. He just invents the layout as he goes along.

On Saturday Vic, Christine and I visited Blickling Hall.
In the fifteenth century Blickling Hall was in the possession of Sir John Fastoff of Caister who made his fortune in The Hundred Years War. Later it was bought by the Boleyn family. Born at Blickling Hall, the couple’s most famous child Anne Boleyn  married King Henry the Eighth in 1533. The marriage only lasted three years and she was beheaded in 1536 by a single swift stroke administered by an expert swordsman brought over from Calais rather than by the usual blunter method.

In Blickling there is a long gallery where, I was told, the ladies would promenade most days for hours on end. This was their exercise it seems. If it was sunny they wouldn’t venture out of doors for fear of getting a tan (which would class them as peasants or outdoor workers) and if it was raining the rain would ruin their expensive clothing. So they endlessly promenaded, looking up at the Jacobean ceiling for inspiration as they deciphered the many and various carvings above their heads.

On Sunday we went to Holkham Beach. Voted the Best British Beach this year, it was also memorably the setting for the ending of the film ‘Shakespeare in Love’.
It is vast and stretches for miles. We walked for nearly an hour and took Vic’s whippets, Cleo and Tilly, out for a run. Here’s Cleo

What a wonderful beach to go for a horse ride. I drove home later in the afternoon, and as Vic had shown me a better route, I avoided most of the M25 roadworks.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Tally Ho!

The other day I heard a clattering of hooves in the distance and as it got louder I looked out of my window to see a marvellous old stage coach go past, fully loaded with passengers and pulled by four horses. In the hope there would be more I grabbed my camera and just managed to take this picture as the second and last coach went past. What a lovely sight – wish I’d been one of the passengers. It reminded me of a scene from ‘The Pickwick Papers’. I can just see myself as Mr Pickwick going off for a ride around the country.

I enlarged my website the other day, by adding a page devoted to pencil drawings and including another one featuring Trompe L’Oeil paintings. Also there are one or two other additions. If you are interested click on the words "pencil drawings" and "Trompe L'Oeil" above to see the pages.

Rolf Harris is currently exhibiting new paintings at the Clarendon Gallery in Dover Street, London. I was invited to the private view there on Saturday afternoon. Jilly came with me and we were lucky to find a single parking space within a few yards of the gallery. But instead of having to put coins into the meter you had to dial a number and pay by credit card. What a rigmarole that was! Because of the noise of the traffic going past I could only intermittently hear what was being said at the other end - partly a real person and sometimes to a recorded voice. After I’d entered the car registration number and the meter’s numbered location I had to enter my credit card number, expiry date and all sorts of other information. Eventually I think they had what they wanted, but have no idea whether I really completed the transaction. So I wait either a hefty bill on my credit card, or a fine for not paying the parking charge for the two hours we were there. I’m sure it’s really very simple – but not for me on that particular occasion. The exhibition was really good however – after a half hour wait in the cold till it officially opened. When it was my turn to go in it seems they hadn’t included my name on the official list so a big black-suited guy complete with earpiece refused to let me enter the gallery. But I managed to persuade him that I was a mate of Rolf’s and he finally let me in. Here’s a picture I took recently of Rolf in his studio painting one of the pictures on display.

Yesterday I was in London again – this time to attend the opening of The Royal Society of Miniaturists Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries. In addition to displaying what was, in my opinion, one of our very best shows, a special loan exhibition of Royal Portrait Miniatures was mounted. We were very privileged as these miniatures included a watercolour miniature portrait of Henry VIII by Lucas Horenbout painted in 1544.

Horenbout (or Hornebolte) was the father of the art of miniature painting and is credited with producing the first portrait miniature as an independent work of art. Previously the miniaturists art had been confined to making portraits that were integral to manuscript documents. Altogether there were about 35 miniatures on display, many framed by glittering surrounds of diamonds.

The RMS’s Gold Memorial Bowl is the highest award that can be won by a miniature painter. Each year a replica is also given to the winner to keep. The 22carat gold bowl itself was destined this year to be returned to the bank immediately after the private view because with the rapid recent rise in the value of gold it is now worth a staggering amount. Those of us who have been recipients of this award in the past can appreciate that our silver-gilt replicas have tripled in value. (Not that anyone would ever consider selling them!). Here is jeweller and talented sculptor Paul Eaton and his daughter together with the gold bowl and its replica.

There are now eleven awards given out each year by the society. Amongst them is my ‘Mundy Sovereign Portrait Award’ for the best portrait in the exhibition, in my opinion. This award was inaugurated in 1984 – one year before the gold bowl was inaugurated. 

This year I gave it to Iain Gardniner for his splendid miniature ‘Reflection from the Portrait Restaurant’. It’s so good to see such excellent work done by younger artists. Here is Iain having been presented with his award by Dr Stephen Lloyd FSA who opened the exhibition.

The other day my young friend invited me to the 60th birthday party for one of her colleagues to be held at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley on Friday evening.. “You won’t know anyone there” she said. Nevertheless I was happy to go along and got there at the appointed hour. No one else seemed to have arrived so I wandered into the Thames Room where the party was to be held and saw just three people standing in the corner. As I approached them, the youngest of the trio – a very tall girl – cried out “It’s Bill!” It turned out that Joceline – for it was she – was the daughter of the guest of honour. Joceline was worried that she’d know no one at the party and here was I, who’d know her for nearly three years - Joceline being the girl I’d painted many times. When the rest of the party arrived my young friend (who’d met Joceline in the past but had no idea she was the daughter of her colleague) was astounded. Incidentally here is the large drawing I made of Joceline recently.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Sir Blogalot

If you remember, the other week I wrote about the little girl of three or four (now aged forty-seven and living in Australia) who remembered me drawing her mother Caroline all those years ago. Well since then we have been in email correspondence, and she’s invested me with a new title ‘Sir Blogalot’! And she sent me a copy of the actual drawing I made at the time. I’m amazed she still had it – but here it is:

We’ve certainly been blessed with wonderful weather over the last week – and the glorious sunshine exactly coincided with Henley's  Fifth Literary Festival. The organisers pulled out all the stops this year to make the festival easily the best ever. And the various venues scattered around Henley were enhanced by the addition of Bix Manor

I went there last Wednesday morning to hear Colin Thubron  - the famous travel writer - talk about his latest book ‘Mountain Pilgrimage’. The mountain in the title of the book is the solitary peak Kailas in Tibet. To both Buddhists and Hindus it is the most mystic heart of the world and an ancient site of pilgrimage. I sat outside in the courtyard before the talk started where tea, coffee and delicious homemade cakes were served. There are so many really good authors to choose from during the festival that it’s only possible to see just a few of them.
The following day I was scheduled to introduce Vince Hill at Le Parisien – a very smart French Restaurant here in Henley. Vince was talking about his book - ‘Another Hill to Climb’.

As my painting of Vince adorned the cover of the book I needed to lug a big easel, and the painting itself to the venue, and must admit that when I struggled to pack both the easel and painting back into my car after the talk in the searing sunshine I felt quite whacked out, so had a nice cooling glass of Chablis in the restaurant and decided to give Shelia Steafel’s talk I’d booked to attend in the afternoon, a miss. Instead I spent a few more hours painting my current picture of a saxophonist. Here’s the progress of part of it so far:

In the evening the Festival put on a special reception at the Hotel Du Vin. There I met numerous friends, including my great niece, Becky. Becky had been selected for a three-week internship by the Festival organisers, and I was constantly told what a great job she was doing.

Having a real interest in the Titanic story I was really looking forward to Frances Wilson’s talk on Friday morning about her book ‘How to Survive the Titanic'
It was certainly a thrilling talk, as Ismay, the owner of the Titanic, had been vilified by almost everyone for leaving the sinking ship when hundreds of others drowned. But Frances Wilson had so thoroughly researched the events at the time, that the reader (and I’m well into it now) can appreciate the many sides to this particular story. I’d booked to go straight from this talk to board ‘The Hibernia’  for a one hour cruise down the river, while listening to four professional actors reading poetry with the theme ‘Laughter and a few Tears’. As I boarded the ship I was assured by the captain that there were no icebergs looming in the distance!

It was another scorching day as we approached Henley Bridge and passed the Grandstand Pavilion (another of the Festival venues) at Phyllis Court.

Saturday dawned brightly and this time my young friend joined me to see Arlene Phillips give her talk about dance at the Kenton Theatre in the morning. Three dance groups gave performances on the stage. I remember Arlene Phillips when she was the director and choreographer of Hot Gossip in the sixties , and more recently as one of the four judges on the TV programme ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ (until the BBC exercised their stupid ageism policy).
After the show we walked up the Market Square in the middle of the town to enjoy a refreshing drink in the brilliant sunshine before going back to the Kenton for (to me) the highlight of the week – Pam Ayres. Pam Ayres makes me laugh as soon as she opens her mouth. Whether she’s reciting one of her poems or just talking about her life I find her whole demeanour incredibly funny. A signed copy of her book ‘The Necessary Aptitude’ may possibly become a much looked forward to birthday present later this month, if I’m lucky.

With weather like this we decided to take my dinghy ‘Marsh Midget’ out for a trip later in the afternoon, but instead of rowing we attached the electric motor to the stern. Quietly ambling upstream for a few miles we had the best time on the river this year. A boat full of yobs drunkenly weaving along in their little metal boat very nearly crashed into us at one stage, but after I’d let loose a torrent of swear words, they managed to veer away in the nick of time. The whole afternoon was idyllic, but I wish I could work out how to steer the boat without sitting half turned round clutching the extension pole. (I’m sure RG9 could come up with the answer). We’d never been so far in the dinghy and I was wondering whether the battery charge would last the trip. (It cut out about 20 feet from my landing stage as we returned home, so my young friend could practise her paddling skills – we’d taken a paddle and two oars with us – just in case).

Here’s a couple of the pictures she took that afternoon.

To round the week off, my cousin Paul and his wife Jo came over to Henley on Sunday morning and together with Val we went to Phyllis Court to see Lucy Worsley give a talk in the ballroom about her book 'If Walls Could Talk'. Lucy Worsley is the chief Curator of several historical Royal Palaces, including The Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace, and is currently presenting a series of programmes on TV. She gave a great talk – so knowledgeable and funny. At one stage she showed a picture of herself at the Tower of London dressed in Royal robes – and with the Queen’s crown on her head! We all had lunch in the dining room before Paul and Jo set off for a holiday in Suffolk. My young friend then joined Val and me to see the last event of the Festival – Robert Hardman – at the Kenton theatre. Whew! That’s enough Literary Festival for another year.

We ended the day by sitting by the river at Phyllis Court sipping ginger beers and watching the green, gold, red and yellow trees in the distance slowly change colour as the sun made its way down to the horizon.