L P Hartley – The Go-Between, 1953


At that moment Mr Maudsley came in. Lord Trimingham rose, and I, after a moment’s hesitation, followed suit.
‘Sit down, Hugh, please sit down,’ Mr Maudsley said, in his dry, level voice. ‘You’ve got a new recruit to the smoking-room. I see. Have you been telling him some smoking-room stories?’
Lord Trimingham laughed?
‘Or showing him the pictures?’
He indicated a row of small dark canvases, set deep in heavy frames. I looked at the one nearest to me, and saw men wearing broad-brimmed hats, smoking long pipes, sitting on tubs with tankards in their hands, or playing cards. Drinking with the men or serving them were women. They wore no hats; their hair was pulled back from high bare foreheads and kept in place by plain white handkerchiefs. One woman was leaning on the back of a man’s chair, watching the card players with avid eyes: the chair-back pressed against her breasts, which bulged over its rim and were of a dirty colour between pink and grey. This made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t like the look of the picture or its feeling; pictures, I thought, should be of something pretty, should record a moment chosen for its beauty. These people hadn’t even troubled to look their best; they were ugly and quite content to be so. They got something out of being their naked selves, their faces told me that; but this self-glory, depending on nobody’s approval but their own, struck me as rather shocking—more shocking than their occupations, unseemly as those were. They had forgotten themselves, that was it; and you should never forget yourself.
No wonder the pictures were not shown to the public, for who would want to look at them? And they couldn’t be very valuable, being so small.
‘He doesn’t like them,’ said Mr Maudsley, flatly.
I wriggled.
’I thought they might be above his head,’ Lord Trimington said. ‘Teniers is an acquired taste, in my opinion.’

L P Hartley, 1895-1972. The Go-Between, 1953, Ch. XVIII.

Image: David Teniers the Younger. Two Men playing Cards in the Kitchen of an Inn. National Gallery, London
probably 1635-40

Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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