Fabulous Faberge

From time to time, over the past 20 years, I’ve been commissioned by a Far Eastern collector to paint miniatures for his Faberge frames. These frames are quite fantastic – some cost over £40,000. However I had an email the other day from Asia to tell me that fungus had appeared on at least six of the miniatures (under the glass and on the portraits themselves). Would I meet the collector in London and see what could be done to repair the damage? As I’m no expert in this field I engaged the service of Bob Wood, the best miniature frame maker and expert in miniature frame restoration in England, to meet me and the client in London last Thursday. Arriving at the house we were surrounded by the most fabulous Khymer, Indian and Oriental statuary we’ve ever seen. Here’s one of them – this piece is about 5 ft high.

Bob removed the solid gold screws from the frames and discovered that a particularly nasty growth was present under the crystal. However, my miniatures, being painted in watercolour, enabled him to remove the offending spores by the use of lighter fuel. Magically no damage was done and all six miniatures have become virginal once again. We did wonder why such beautifully made frames would allow spores to intrude under the crystal, and came to the conclusion that as small oval sepia photographs, mainly of the Russian Royal family, were originally housed within the frames, a perfect waterproof fitting was not crucial. Had Faberge flourished in the years before the invention of photography in 1830, when watercolour miniature portraits were all the fashion, I’m sure he would have ensured his frames would never have allowed a hint of moisture to intrude.

Also with us that day was Sir Winston Churchill’s great grandson, Randolf Churchill. Being very interested in art himself he hinted at a possibility of a commission for me of a miniature based on the John Singer Sargent oil portrait of Jenny Jerome (Lady Randolf Churchill) - Winston Churchill’s mother.

When I got back from London I called in to see Vince Hill in Shiplake. (I usually park my car in his drive when I catch the train to London). There I met the publisher who is preparing to launch Vince’s autobiography in October. He asked whether he could use my painting of Vince on the cover, which I readily agreed to.

I’ve just started a large painting of a portion of the carousel we saw last week at Sir William McAlpine’s estate. It’ll take me ages to paint as the detail and thousands of colour changes of the horses, portraits and silver railings will need great care and a very steady hand. But I’m so intrigued with it that I can’t wait to spend all day and every day on the painting if I can.

I have to admit that I bought an iPad the other day when I was in London. So far I am delighted with it and have installed many of my paintings and miniatures on it as well as hundreds of songs, audiobooks and other reading material. When I go abroad, instead of taking my laptop, I’ll take the iPad as it will be so much more convenient being smaller and lighter. Hopefully I’ll have worked out by then how to put pictures and write my blog on it. .

I’ve mentioned the Hennerton Backwater Association before. This is a photograph of a scene of one of the lovely gardens taken from the backwater.

Apart from the AGM and alfresco breakfast by the river, we also have an annual dinner and a frog race. A frog race? Yes, six cardboard frogs were threaded on strings between chairs about 20 ft apart. At one end six people each hold a string – it must never be held above the knee – and on the command “Go” they wriggle the string thus enabling his or her frog to progress to the other end. The winner is the frog that gets there first. Last Friday, after a very good dinner in the Grandstand beside the river at Phyllis Court Club, we started on the Frog Championship. Joe Haynes, who acted as adjudicator and starter, outlined the history of frog racing as performed by the Hennerton Backwater Association. He also put forward the hope that a form of frog racing could become a Olympic event! Some hope. Most of us at the dinner took part. I even reached the semi-finals and then the final but was pipped at the post. Coming second doesn’t mean anything to me but it was a great evening. Here’s a little video – sorry about the quality, it was taken on my phone – and clearly demonstrates what a load of big kids we are.