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