Sunday, 14 July 2013

French bed

100. French bed.

My hundredth object is the bed that we sleep in, yet another example of something that has migrated to England from abroad. It was bought from The Old Pickle Factory in Bristol from a company that imports and restores period French furniture. The word 'restore' tends to mean a fashionable application of one of Farrow and Ball's light, chalky paints and we were eager to find a bed before it had received such treatment. One of Peter's former pupils worked with the company and we told him what we were looking for, a flowing Rococo style of centered design with some deep carving. He said that he would keep an eye out for us.
We made several forays into town when new stock arrived, but without success. Then I found a bedend amongst a stack of wood. "This is just the sort of style we're looking for," I said, "If only it had a headboard."
"It's here somewhere," was the reply, and it was! It has a central carved shell design and swags of roses. Surely it was destined to be mine! The wood, I think, is walnut. It does not have the grandeur and history of the half-tester bed that I was born in, but it is comfortable and very pretty!


Saturday, 13 July 2013

Portrait - work in progress

97. Portrait studies by David Ferguson.

Three years ago I sat for several days to have my portrait drawn and I've been waiting patiently ever since to see the finished result. There is no point in hurrying or badgering the artist because he works at his own particular pace, in a process of application and removal, until he feels that he has said all that is possible. It fascinates me that as his images recede the character gains clarity. His art is of reduction and subtlety.

In April we took a short break to Cornwall to see how the portrait was progressing. Would we consider the work finished? Would it then be necessary to wrestle the picture away from him? Would I even like the look of it?
Paintings were stacked against the walls of his studio and a handsome framed portrait of another sitter was displayed on the easel. A beautiful face, beautifully painted.

David had studied at the Slade under William Coldstream, whose rigorous observation and painstaking method he employs. The dimensions of my head had been carefully noted, by means of artists' calipers, during the initial sittings. On this visit he asked me to take the same pose. "You've changed," he stated. I allowed myself a small smile but didn't state the obvious, that I am three years older. A Dorian Grey moment! I was pleased to find that he was working on two studies of my head and shoulders in different formats, one portrait, the other square. he took the framed work down from the easel and displayed the larger piece, the portrait format.
I was looking at my mother!
For the sitting I had worn a grey linen dress because the colour was neutral and the style simple, exposing shoulders and collar bones. But when I looked at the dress in the painting it took on a greater significance. Every year throughout my childhood my father had bought me a party dress. It had been his pleasure to take me into town to choose something lovely. After his death I cashed in an insurance bond that he had taken out at my birth and spent the money on the grey dress. When I brought it home my husband said, "Your father bought you that dress." How pleased I was to have worn it to the sittings.

I have shown these photographs of the two pieces of work in progress to artist friends and am surprised by their reactions. "It isn't you," they said. "He hasn't captured your liveliness." They see me most often in company when I am noisy and opinionated. This, I think, is what they mean by lively.
"I wouldn't want him to paint me!" said one.
But when members of the family look at the images they see both my mother and me, captured clearly.

98. Carved ebony 'crocodile' 25cm length.

This is just one of many small tourist carvings that we bought on holiday in Kenya over a quarter of a century ago. I had no idea at the time of purchase that it would prove to be such a useful object. It has been in almost daily use ever since, positioned on the piano just beyond the kitchen door within easy reach when we open the morning mail at the kitchen table. The crocodile is not only a humorous- looking object, it is also extremely well designed, fitting comfortably into the hand, the tail slicing neatly and efficiently through paper envelopes. Opening post without it feels a messy and unsatisfactory business.

99. Headstone for a dog. Sleeping lamb, concrete.

As a small child the first dog that I chose and called my own was a miniature black poodle. Because the breed was of French origin I called her Michelle, many years before the name was made popular by the Paul McCartney song. She was the perfect companion for a little girl because she was intelligent and responsive to teaching and had a curly coat that required endless grooming and styling. I was broken- hearted when she died. My father buried her in the garden and made the concrete lamb to mark her grave. It has traveled with me to various homes and been a marker for much-loved pets. It is not wearing too well, having lost a fair amount of definition over the years!
Now it is placed beneath the walnut tree in the garden of our present home and marks the grave of my adored smooth fox-terrier, Maisie. It was one of her favourite places to bask in the morning sunshine while keeping an eye on me as I worked among the vegetables.

Saturday, 2 February 2013


96. Portrait (detail) by Deborah Pye
oil on gesso

During the years that Peter was teaching I went to the end of year degree shows. At one of these I admired the work of Deborah Pye and commissioned her to make a portrait of our elder daughter. The two girls were only a few years different in age and when Debbie came to the house I left them to their own devices. In time Debbie produced a painting that she considered finished. It did not resemble the paintings that she had displayed at her degree show. She had tried too hard to make something that she thought would please us and not what she would want for herself. It was suggested that she rework the painting to her own satisfaction. When she returned with the painting as it is now we were all delighted.
This painting tells me a story. Our daughter sits on her bedroom floor but looks away from us, gazing out, beyond the walls. She is ready to 'fly the nest'. A couple of months later she went away to university and on to her own life, since when she has returned home only for short visits on high days and holidays.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Decisions, decisions

So few spaces left and so many possible objects to choose from that I have ground to a halt. I sat for a portrait about three years ago and, whenever he finishes it, it will be included in the list. We phone Cornwall every now and then to see if it is ready to be collected. A month or two hence is always promised but never gets any nearer. I'm holding the space!

First sitting.