Richard Brinsley Sheridan – A Portrait, 1777

Tell me, ye prim adepts in Scandal’s school,
Who rail by precept, and detract by rule,
Lives there no character, so tried, so known,
So deck’d with grace, and so unlike your own,
That even you assist her fame to raise,
Approve by envy, and by silence praise!
Attend!—a model shall attract your view—
Daughters of calumny, I summon you!
You shall decide if this a portrait prove,
Or fond creation of the Muse and Love.
Attend, ye virgin critics, shrewd and sage,
Ye matron censors of this childish age,
Whose peering eye and wrinkled front declare
A fix’d antipathy to young and fair;
By cunning, cautious; or by nature, cold,—
In maiden madness, virulently bold;—
Attend, ye skill’d to coin the precious tale,
Creating proof, where innuendos fail!
Whose practised memories, cruelly exact,
Omit no circumstance, except the fact!—
Attend, all ye who boast,—or old or young,—
The living libel of a slanderous tongue!
So shall my theme, as far contrasted be,
As saints by fiends or hymns by calumny.
Come, gentle Amoret (for ’neath that name
In worthier verse is sung thy beauty’s fame),
Come—for but thee who seeks the Muse? and while
Celestial blushes check thy conscious smile.
With timid grace and hesitating eye,
The perfect model which I boast supply:—
Vain Muse! couldst thou the humblest sketch create
Of her, or slightest charm couldst imitate—
Could thy blest strain in kindred colours trace
The faintest wonder of her form and face—
Poets would study the immortal line,
And Reynolds own his art subdued by thine;
That art, which well might added lustre give
To nature’s best and heaven’s superlative:
On Granby’s cheek might bid new glories rise.
Or point a purer beam from Devon’s eyes!
Hard is the task to shape that beauty’s praise,
Whose judgment scorns the homage flattery pays?
But praising Amoret we cannot err,
No tongue o’ervalues Heaven, or flatters her!
Yet she by fate’s perverseness—she alone
Would doubt our truth, nor deem such praise her own!
Adorning fashion, unadorn’d by dress,
Simple from taste, and not from carelessness;
Discreet in gesture, in deportment mild,
Not stiff with prudence, nor uncouthly wild:
No state has Amoret; no studied mien;
She frowns no goddess, and she moves no queen,
The softer charm that in her manner lies
Is framed to captivate, yet not surprise;
It justly suits the expression of her face,—
’Tis less than dignity, and more than grace!
On her pure cheek the native hue is such,
That, form’d by Heaven to be admired so much,
The hand divine, with a less partial care,
Might well have fix’d a fainter crimson there,
And bade the gentle inmate of her breast—
Inshrined Modesty—supply the rest.
But who the peril of her lips shall paint?
Strip them of smiles—still, still all words are faint!
But moving Love himself appears to teach
Their action, though denied to rule her speech;
And thou who seest her speak, and dost not hear,
Mourn not her distant accents ’scape thine ear;
Viewing those lips, thou still may’st make pretence
To judge of what she says, and swear ’tis sense:
Clothed with such grace, with such expression fraught,
They move in meaning, and they pause in thought!
But dost thou farther watch, with charm’d surprise,
The mild irresolution of her eyes,
Curious to mark how frequent they repose,
In brief eclipse and momentary close—
Ah! seest thou not an ambush’d Cupid there,
Too tim’rous of his charge, with jealous care
Veils and unveils those beams of heavenly light,
Too full, too fatal else, for mortal sight?
Nor yet, such pleasing vengeance fond to meet,
In pard’ning dimples hope a safe retreat.
What though her peaceful breast should ne’er allow
Subduing frowns to arm her altered brow,
By Love, I swear, and by his gentle wiles,
More fatal still the mercy of her smiles!
Thus lovely, thus adorn’d, possessing all
Of bright or fair that can to woman fall,
The height of vanity might well be thought
Prerogative in her, and Nature’s fault.
Yet gentle Amoret, in mind supreme
As well as charms, rejects the vainer theme;
And, half mistrustful of her beauty’s store,
She barbs with wit those darts too keen before:—
Read in all knowledge that her sex should reach,
Though Greville, or the Muse, should deign to teach,
Fond to improve, nor timorous to discern
How far it is a woman’s grace to learn;
In Millar’s dialect she would not prove
Apollo’s priestess, but Apollo’s love,
Graced by those signs which truth delights to own,
The timid blush, and mild submitted tone:
Whate’er she says, though sense appear throughout,
Displays the tender hue of female doubt;
Deck’d with that charm, how lovely wit appears,
How graceful science, when that robe she wears!
Such too her talents, and her bent of mind,
As speak a sprightly heart by thought refined:
A taste for mirth, by contemplation school’d,
A turn for ridicule, by candour ruled,
A scorn of folly, which she tries to hide;
An awe of talent, which she owns with pride!
Peace, idle Muse! no more thy strain prolong,
But yield a theme, thy warmest praises wrong;
Just to her merit, though thou canst not raise
Thy feeble verse, behold th’ acknowledged praise
Has spread conviction through the envious train,
And cast a fatal gloom o’er Scandal’s reign!
And lo! each pallid hag, with blister’d tongue,
Mutters assent to all thy zeal has sung–
Owns all the colours just–the outline true;
Thee my inspirer, and my model–CREWE!

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816). A Portrait. 1777. (Addressed to Mrs Crewe, with the Comedy of The School for Scandal)

C P Cavafy – I brought to art

I sit in a mood of reverie.
I brought to Art desires and sensations:
things half-glimpsed,
faces or lines, certain indistinct memories
of unfulfilled love affairs. Let me submit to Art:
Art knows how to shape forms of Beauty,
almost imperceptibly completing life,
blending impressions, blending day with day

C.P. Cavafy, I brought to art. Collected Poems.

Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992

Horace Walpole – The Castle of Otranto, 1764

 

Manfred rose to pursue her, when the moon, which was now up, and gleamed in at the opposite casement, presented to his sight the plumes of the

fatal helmet, which rose to the height of the windows, waving backwards and forwards in a tempestuous manner, and accompanied with a hollow and rustling sound. Isabella, who gathered courage from her situation, and who dreaded

nothing so much as Manfred’s pursuit of his declaration, cried

“Look, my Lord ! see, Heaven itself declares against your impious intentions ! ”

“Heaven nor Hell shall impede my designs,” said Manfred, advancing again to seize the Princess.

At that instant the portrait of his grandfather, which hung over the bench where they had been sitting, uttered a deep sigh, and heaved its breast.

Isabella, whose back was turned to the picture, saw not the motion, nor knew whence the sound came, but started, and said

“Hark, my Lord ! What sound was that” and at the same time made towards the door.

Manfred, distracted between the flight of Isabella, who had now reached the stairs, and yet unable to keep his eyes from the picture, which began to move, had, however, advanced some steps after her, still looking backwards on the portrait, when he saw it quit its panel, and descend on the floor with a grave and melancholy air.

“Do I dream ? ” cried Manfred, returning ; “or are the devils themselves in league against me? Speak, infernal spectre ! Or, if thou art my grandsire, why dost thou too conspire against thy wretched descendant, who too dearly pays for ‘

Ere he could finish the sentence, the vision sighed again, and made a sign to Manfred to follow him.

” Lead on ! ” cried Manfred ; ” I will follow thee to the gulf of perdition.”

The spectre marched sedately, but dejected, to the end of the gallery, and turned into a chamber on the right hand. Manfred accompanied him at a little distance, full of anxiety and horror, but resolved. As he would have entered the chamber, the door was clapped to with violence by an invisible hand. The Prince, collecting courage from this delay, would have forcibly burst open the door with his foot, but found that it resisted his utmost efforts.

” Since Hell will not satisfy my curiosity,” said Manfred, ” I will use the human means in my power for preserving my race ; Isabella shall not escape me.”

Horace Walpole, 1717-1797.   The Castle of Otranto, 1764.  (Chapter 30)

Image: Marcus Geeraerts, the younger, 1561-1635. Portrait of Henry Cary, 1st Viscount Falkland, (c.1576-1633), c.1603. Strawberry Hill

Kingsley Amis – Shitty, 1955

 

Look thy last on all things shitty
While thou’rt at it: soccer stars,
Soccer crowds, bedezined bushheads
Jerking over their guitars.

German tourists, plastic roses,
Face of Mao and face of Ché,
Women wearing curtains, blankets,
Beckett at the ICA.

High-rise blocks and action paintings,
Sculptures made from wire and lead:
Each of them a sight more lovely
Than the screens around your bed.

Kingsley Amis, 1922 -1995

Shitty, 1955 from Collected Poems 1944–1979

Image: Terence Donovan (1936-1996), Man About Town, 1960

Joyce Cary – Herself Surprised, 1941

 

‘He promised me my picture in six months and it’s not finished after four years.’ It was always her picture. She would say to visitors: ‘Yes, my picture is going on very well. It is going to be finished by next month. A wonderful conception, don’t you think, the Garden of Eden?’

Of course, all the people in the place were disgusted at the picture. Ugly was too good a word for it. It was an outrage, an insult to decent folk, a bolshevist plot. Why they thought it bolshevist, I could never find out, because it was only naked men and women in a kind of garden with queer flowers and trees, and some of them speaking words out of their mouths, written on coloured puffs. None of the words were to do with bolshevism, which Gulley hated like poison because, he said, the bolshevists tried to make artists paint for  the government.

One of the women, with very short legs, was saying in pink letters on a blue puff: ‘Love is my name, on death I stand.’ A tree with white flowers was singing out of one of the flowers: ‘I sleep in this joy, do not wake me with admiration.’ A goat was saying in white letters on a green puff: ‘Chain me or I shall eat the world bare.’ An old man with no ears or arms or legs was saying: ‘You do not speak my language – I can’t hear your voice.’ A big strong black man with his legs like tree roots was saying in black letters on a big white puff: ‘I am death, from life I grow. Maids, take my seed, and bear.’

No one liked the picture, not even Miss Slaughter, who was shocked by the puffs. She was terribly upset when she saw Gulley painting them on, in the very last month. I heard her catch her breath. But as I say, she was tough, and she always stuck to her principles, which were that Gulley was a genius and that a genius is always right. So she even praised them to him. But all he said was: ‘I think they look silly.’

So I thought too, and I hoped he would change them. But he never did. For one day he came in and told me that the picture was done; he never wanted to see it again. He agreed only to stay for the opening day, which was to be after harvest Sunday.

Miss Slaughter couldn’t wait even so long as a month. She turned us out as soon as the picture was finished. Not that she was rude. She said that her niece was coming. But no niece came and it was only to get rid of us. I don’t blame her after five years. But as it turned out we had no money, at least till Gulley finished a portrait down in Queensport; so we had to take the cheapest room, over the blacksmith’s.

It was small, but that was no drawback when Gulley was happy. So he was, glad as always to be finished with a picture; and full of a new one, for Mr Hickson’s drawing- room, twenty feet high and forty feet long. Mr Hickson had not ordered it and we both knew he would never take it; but it kept us both happy in that week. For as I say, when Gulley was happy then we were both gay.

Joyce Cary. 1888- 1957

Herself Surprised, 1941

D H Lawrence – Women in Love, 1920

 

`You have heard the plan,’ he said with some excitement, `for a studio for Winifred, over the stables?’

`No!’ exclaimed Gudrun, in mock wonder.

`Oh! — I thought Winnie wrote it to you, in her letter!’

`Oh — yes — of course. But I thought perhaps it was only her own little idea –‘ Gudrun smiled subtly, indulgently. The sick man smiled also, elated.

`Oh no. It is a real project. There is a good room under the roof of the stables — with sloping rafters. We had thought of converting it into a studio.’

`How very nice that would be!’ cried Gudrun, with excited warmth. The thought of the rafters stirred her.

`You think it would? Well, it can be done.’

`But how perfectly splendid for Winifred! Of course, it is just what is needed, if she is to work at all seriously. One must have one’s workshop, otherwise one never ceases to be an amateur.’

`Is that so? Yes. Of course, I should like you to share it with Winifred.’

`Thank you so much.’

Gudrun knew all these things already, but she must look shy and very grateful, as if overcome.

`Of course, what I should like best, would be if you could give up your work at the Grammar School, and just avail yourself of the studio, and work there — well, as much or as little as you liked –‘

He looked at Gudrun with dark, vacant eyes. She looked back at him as if full of gratitude. These phrases of a dying man were so complete and natural, coming like echoes through his dead mouth.

`And as to your earnings — you don’t mind taking from me what you have taken from the Education Committee, do you? I don’t want you to be a loser.’

`Oh,’ said Gudrun, `if I can have the studio and work there, I can earn money enough, really I can.’

`Well,’ he said, pleased to be the benefactor, `we can see about all that. You wouldn’t mind spending your days here?’

‘If there were a studio to work in,’ said Gudrun, ‘I could ask for nothing better.’

D H Lawrence, 1885-1930.  Women in Love, 1920. (Chapter 21 – The Threshold)

P G Wodehouse – The Man Upstairs, 1910

“It must be great to be able to do things—artistic things, I mean, like composing.”

“Well, you do, don’t you? You paint.”

The young man shook his head with a cheerful grin.

“I fancy,” he said, “I should make a pretty good housepainter. I want scope. Canvas seems to cramp me.”

It seemed to cause him no discomfort. He appeared rather amused than otherwise.

“Let me look.”

She crossed over to the easel.

“I shouldn’t,” he warned her. “You really want to? Is this not mere recklessness? Very well, then.”

To the eye of an experienced critic the picture would certainly have seemed crude. It was a study of a dark-eyed child holding a large black cat. Statisticians estimate that there is no moment during the day when one or more young artists somewhere on the face of the globe are not painting pictures of children holding cats.

“I call it ‘Child and Cat,’ ” said the young man. “Rather a neat title, don’t you think? Gives you the main idea of the thing right away. That,” he explained, pointing obligingly with the stem of his pipe, “is the cat.”

Annette belonged to that large section of the public which likes or dislikes a picture according to whether its subject happens to please or displease them. Probably there was not one of the million or so child- and-cat eyesores at present in existence which she would not have liked. Besides, he had been very nice about her music.

“I think it’s splendid,” she announced.

The young man’s face displayed almost more surprise than joy.

“Do you really?” he said. “Then I can die happy—that is, if you’ll let me come down and listen to those songs of yours first.”

“You would only knock on the floor,” objected Annette.

“I’ll never knock on another floor as long as I live,” said the ex-brute, reassuringly. “I hate knocking on floors. I don’t see what people want to knock on floors for, anyway.”

Friendships ripen quickly in Chelsea. Within the space of an hour and a quarter Annette had learned that the young man’s name was Alan Beverley (for which Family Heraldic affliction she pitied rather than despised him), that he did not depend entirely on his work for a living, having a little money of his own, and that he considered this a fortunate thing. From the very beginning of their talk he pleased her. She found him an absolutely new and original variety of the unsuccessful painter. Unlike Reginald Sellers, who had a studio in the same building, and sometimes dropped in to drink her coffee and pour out his troubles, he did not attribute his nonsuccess to any malice or stupidity on the part of the public. She was so used to hearing Sellers lash the Philistine and hold forth on unappreciated merit that she could hardly believe the miracle when, in answer to a sympathetic bromide on the popular lack of taste in Art, Beverley replied that, as far as he was concerned, the public showed strong good sense. If he had been striving with every nerve to win her esteem, he could not have done it more surely than with that one remark. Though she invariably listened with a sweet patience which encouraged them to continue long after the point at which she had begun in spirit to throw things at them, Annette had no sympathy with men who whined. She herself was a fighter. She hated as much as anyone the sickening blows which Fate hands out to the struggling and ambitious; but she never made them the basis of a monologue act. Often, after a dreary trip round the offices of the music-publishers, she would howl bitterly in secret, and even gnaw her pillow in the watches of the night; but in public her pride kept her unvaryingly bright and cheerful.

P G Wodehouse, 1881-1975

The Man Upstairs, 1910

A A Milne – The Painter, 1912

MR. PAUL SAMWAYS was in a mood of deep depression. The artistic temperament is peculiarly subject to these moods, but in Paul’s case there was reason why he should take a gloomy view of things. His masterpiece, “The Shot Tower from Battersea Bridge,” together with the companion picture, “Battersea Bridge from the Shot Tower,” had been purchased by a dealer for seventeen and sixpence. His sepia monochrome, “Night,” had brought him an I.O.U. for five shillings. These were his sole earnings for the last six weeks, and starvation stared him in the face.

“If only I had a little capital!” he cried aloud in despair. “Enough to support me until my Academy picture is finished.” His Academy picture was a masterly study entitled, “Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll,” and he had been compelled to stop half-way across the Channel through sheer lack of ultramarine.

The clock struck two, reminding him that he had not lunched. He rose wearily and went to the little cupboard which served as a larder. There was but little there to make a satisfying meal–half a loaf of bread, a corner of cheese, and a small tube of Chinese-white. Mechanically he set the things out….

He had finished, and was clearing away, when there came a knock at the door. His charwoman, whose duty it was to clean his brushes every week, came in with a card.

“A lady to see you, sir,” she said.

Paul read the card in astonishment.

“The Duchess of Winchester,” he exclaimed. “What on earth–Show her in, please.” Hastily picking up a brush and the first tube which came to hand, he placed himself in a dramatic position before his easel and set to work.

“How do you do, Mr Samways?” said the

Duchess.

“G–good-afternoon,” said Paul, embarrassed both by the presence of a duchess in his studio and by his sudden discovery that he was touching up a sunset with a tube of carbolic tooth-paste.

“Our mutual friend, Lord Ernest Topwood, recommended me to come to you.”

Paul, who had never met Lord Ernest, but had once seen his name in a ha’penny paper beneath a photograph of Mr Arnold Bennett, bowed silently.

“As you probably guess, I want you to paint my daughter’s portrait.”

Paul opened his mouth to say that he was only a landscape painter, and then closed it again. After all, it was hardly fair to bother her Grace with technicalities.

“I hope you can undertake this commission,” she said pleadingly.

“I shall be delighted,” said Paul. “I am rather busy just now, but I could begin at two o’clock on Monday.”

“Excellent,” said the Duchess. “Till Monday, then.” And Paul, still clutching the tooth-paste, conducted her to her carriage.

Punctually at 3.15 on Monday Lady Hermione appeared. Paul drew a deep breath of astonishment when he saw her, for she was lovely beyond compare. All his skill as a landscape painter would be needed if he were to do justice to her beauty. As quickly as possible he placed her in position and set to work.

“May I let my face go for a moment?” said Lady Hermione after three hours of it.

“Yes, let us stop,” said Paul. He had outlined her in charcoal and burnt cork, and it would be too dark to do any more that evening.

“Tell me where you first met Lord Ernest?” she asked as she came down to the fire.

“At the Savoy, in June,” said Paul boldly.

Lady Hermione laughed merrily. Paul, who had not regarded his last remark as one of his best things, looked at her in surprise.

“But your portrait of him was in the Academy in May!” she smiled.

Paul made up his mind quickly.

“Lady Hermione,” he said with gravity, “do not speak to me of Lord Ernest again. Nor,” he added hurriedly, “to Lord Ernest of me. When your picture is finished I will tell you why. Now it is time you went.” He woke the Duchess up, and made a few commonplace remarks about the weather. “Remember,” he whispered to Lady Hermione as he saw them to their car. She nodded and smiled.

The sittings went on daily. Sometimes Paul would paint rapidly with great sweeps of the brush; sometimes he would spend an hour trying to get on his palette the exact shade of green bice for the famous Winchester emeralds; sometimes in despair he would take a sponge and wipe the whole picture out, and then start madly again. And sometimes he would stop work altogether and tell Lady Hermione about his home-life in Worcestershire. But always, when he woke the Duchess up at the end of the sitting, he would say, “Remember!” and Lady Hermione would nod back at him.

It was a spring-like day in March when the picture was finished, and nothing remained to do but to paint in the signature.

“It is beautiful!” said Lady Hermione, with enthusiasm. “Beautiful! Is it at all like me?”

Paul looked from her to the picture, and back to her again.

“No,” he said, “not a bit. You know, I am really a landscape painter.”

“What do you mean?” she cried. “You are Peter Samways, A.R.A., the famous portrait painter!”

“No,” he said sadly. “That was my secret. I am Paul Samways. A member of the Amateur Rowing Association, it is true, but only an unknown landscape painter. Peter Samways lives in the next studio, and he is not even a relation.”

“Then you have deceived me! You have brought me here under false pretences!” She stamped her foot angrily. “My father will not buy that picture, and I forbid you to exhibit it as a portrait of myself.”

“My dear Lady Hermione,” said Paul, “you need not be alarmed. I propose to exhibit the picture as ‘When the Heart is Young.’ Nobody will recognize a likeness to you in it. And if the Duke does not buy it I have no doubt that some other purchaser will come along.”

Lady Hermione looked at him thoughtfully. “Why did you do it?” she asked gently.

“Because I fell in love with you.”

She dropped her eyes, and then raised them gaily to his. “Mother is still asleep,” she whispered.

“Hermione!” he cried, dropping his palette and putting his brush behind his ear.

She held out her arms to him.

. . . . . . .

As everybody remembers, “When the Heart is Young,” by Paul Samways, was the feature of the Exhibition. It was bought for 10,000 pounds by a retired bottle manufacturer, whom it reminded a little of his late mother. Paul woke to find himself famous. But the success which began for him from this day did not spoil his simple and generous nature. He never forgot his brother artists, whose feet were not yet on the top of the ladder. Indeed, one of his first acts after he was married was to give a commission to Peter Samways, A.R.A.–nothing less than the painting of his wife’s portrait. And Lady Hermione was delighted with the result.

AA Milne, 1882-1956

The Painter, (The Holiday Round), 1912

Image: Octave TassaertInterior of a Studio, 1845 © Louvre

Arthur Conan-Doyle – A Post-Impressionist, 1922

Peter Wilson, A.R.A.,
In his small atelier,
Studied Continental Schools,
Drew by Academic rules.
So he made his bid for fame,
But no golden answer came,
For the fashion of his day
Chanced to set the other way,
And decadent forms of Art
Drew the patrons of the mart.
Now this poor reward of merit
Rankled so in Peter’s spirit,
It was more than he could bear;
So one night in mad despair
He took his canvas for the year
(“Isle of Wight from Southsea Pier”),
And he hurled it from his sight,
Hurled it blindly to the night,
Saw it fall diminuendo
From the open lattice window,
Till it landed with a flop
On the dust-bin’s ashen top,
Where, ‘mid damp and rain and grime,
It remained till morning time.
Then when morning brought reflection,
He was shamed at his dejection,
And he thought with consternation
Of his poor, ill-used creation;
Down he rushed, and found it there
Lying all exposed and bare,
Mud-bespattered, spoiled, and botched,
Water sodden, fungus-blotched,
All the outlines blurred and wavy,
All the colours turned to gravy,
Fluids of a dappled hue,
Blues on red and reds on blue,
A pea-green mother with her daughter,
Crazy boats on crazy water
Steering out to who knows what,
An island or a lobster-pot?
Oh, the wretched man’s despair!
Was it lost beyond repair?
Swift he bore it from below,
Hastened to the studio,
Where with anxious eyes he studied
If the ruin, blotched and muddied,
Could by any human skill
Be made a normal picture still.
Thus in most repentant mood
Unhappy Peter Wilson stood,
When, with pompous face, self-centred,
Willoughby the critic entered —
He of whom it has been said
He lives a century ahead —
And sees with his prophetic eye
The forms which Time will justify,
A fact which surely must abate
All longing to reincarnate.
“Ah, Wilson,” said the famous man,
Turning himself the walls to scan,
“The same old style of thing I trace,
Workmanlike but commonplace.
Believe me, sir, the work that lives
Must furnish more than Nature gives.
‘The light that never was,’ you know,
That is your mark — but here, hullo!
What’s this? What’s this? Magnificent!
I’ve wronged you, Wilson! I repent!
A masterpiece! A perfect thing!
What atmosphere! What colouring!
Spanish Armada, is it not?
A view of Ryde, no matter what,
I pledge my critical renown
That this will be the talk of Town.
Where did you get those daring hues,
Those blues on reds, those reds on blues?
That pea-green face, that gamboge sky?
You’ve far outcried the latest cry—
Out Monet-ed Monet. I have said
Our Art was sleeping, but not dead.
Long have we waited for the Star,
I watched the skies for it afar,
The hour has come—and here you are.”
And that is how our artist friend
Found his struggles at an end,
And from his little Chelsea flat
Became the Park Lane plutocrat.
‘Neath his sheltered garden wall
When the rain begins to fall,
And the stormy winds do blow,
You may see them in a row,
Red effects and lake and yellow
Getting nicely blurred and mellow.
With the subtle gauzy mist
Of the great Impressionist.
Ask him how he chanced to find
How to leave the French behind,
And he answers quick and smart,
“English climate’s best for Art.”

Arthur Conan-Doyle, 1859-1930

A Post-Impressionist (Songs of the Road), 1922

E F Benson – Miss Mapp, 1922

 

The Major’s dining-room window was open, and as Miss Mapp passed it, she could not help hearing loud, angry remarks about eggs coming from inside. That made it clear that he was still at breakfast, and that if he had been working at his diaries in the fresh morning hours and forgetting the time, early rising, in spite of his early retirement last night, could not be supposed to suit his Oriental temper. But a change of habits was invariably known to be upsetting, and Miss Mapp was hopeful that in a day or two he would feel quite a different man. Farther down the street was quaint Irene lounging at the door of her new studio (a converted coach-house), smoking a cigarette and dressed like a jockey.

“Hullo, Mapp,” she said. “Come and have a look round my new studio. You haven’t seen it yet. I shall give a house-warming next week. Bridge-party!”

Miss Mapp tried to steel herself for the hundredth time to appear quite unconscious that she was being addressed when Irene said “Mapp” in that odious manner. But she never could summon up sufficient nerve to be rude to so awful a mimic. . . .

“Good morning, dear one,” she said sycophantically. “Shall I peep in for a moment?”

The decoration of the studio was even more appalling than might have been expected. There was a German stove in the corner made of pink porcelain, the rafters and roof were painted scarlet, the walls were of magenta distemper and the floor was blue. In the corner was a very large orange-coloured screen. The walls were hung with specimens of Irene’s art, there was a stout female with no clothes on at all, whom it was impossible not to recognize as being Lucy; there were studies of fat legs and ample bosoms, and on the easel was a picture, evidently in process of completion, which represented a man. From this Miss Mapp instantly averted her eyes.

“Eve,” said Irene, pointing to Lucy.

Miss Mapp naturally guessed that the gentleman who was almost in the same costume was Adam, and turned completely away from him.

“And what a lovely idea to have a blue floor, dear,” she said. “How original you are. And that pretty scarlet ceiling. But don’t you find when you’re painting that all these bright colours disturb you?”

“Not a bit: they stimulate your sense of colour.”

Miss Mapp moved towards the screen.

“What a delicious big screen,” she said.

“Yes, but don’t go behind it, Mapp,” said Irene, “or you’ll see my model undressing.”

Miss Mapp retreated from it precipitately, as from a wasp’s nest, and examined some of the studies on the wall, for it was more than probable from the unfinished picture on the easel that Adam lurked behind the delicious screen. Terrible though it all was, she was conscious of an unbridled curiosity to know who Adam was. It was dreadful to think that there could be any man in Tilling so depraved as to stand to be looked at with so little on. . . .

Irene strolled round the walls with her.

“Studies of Lucy,” she said.

“I see, dear,” said Miss Mapp. “How clever! Legs and things! But when you have your bridge-party, won’t you perhaps cover some of them up, or turn them to the wall? We should all be looking at your pictures instead of attending to our cards. And if you were thinking of asking the Padre, you know . . .”

They were approaching the corner of the room where the screen stood, when a movement there as if Adam had hit it with his elbow made Miss Mapp turn round. The screen fell flat on the ground and within a yard of her stood Mr. Hopkins, the proprietor of the fish-shop just up the street. Often and often had Miss Mapp had pleasant little conversations with him, with a view to bringing down the price of flounders. He had little bathing-drawers on. . . .

“Hullo, Hopkins, are you ready,” said Irene. “You know Miss Mapp, don’t you?”

Miss Mapp had not imagined that Time and Eternity combined could hold so embarrassing a moment. She did not know where to look, but wherever she looked, it should not be at Hopkins. But (wherever she looked) she could not be unaware that Hopkins raised his large bare arm and touched the place where his cap would have been, if he had had one.

“Good morning, Hopkins,” she said. “Well, Irene darling, I must be trotting, and leave you to your–” she hardly knew what to call it–“to your work.”

She tripped from the room, which seemed to be entirely full of unclothed limbs, and redder than one of Mr. Hopkins’s boiled lobsters hurried down the street. She felt that she could never face him again, but would be obliged to go to the establishment in the High Street where Irene dealt, when it was fish she wanted from a fish-shop. . . . Her head was in a whirl at the brazenness of mankind, especially womankind. How had Irene started the overtures that led to this? Had she just said to Hopkins one morning: “Will you come to my studio and take off all your clothes?” If Irene had not been such a wonderful mimic, she would certainly have felt it her duty to go straight to the Padre, and, pulling down her veil, confide to him the whole sad story. But as that was out of the question, she went into Twemlow’s and ordered four pounds of dried apricots.

E F Benson. 1867-1940.  Miss Mapp. 1922.  (Chapter 3)

Image: Dod Proctor, In a Strange Land, 1919. ©National Gallery of Victoria