Sir Alfred Munnings – Ichabod Rubens. Ballads and Poems or a Rhyming Succession of Rhyming Digression,1957

“What a muddle.’ Not to cuddle!
A stupid way to paint the nude.”


In a travelling circus years ago,
A boy was born upon a tour;
And when he reached the age of two,
His mother dropped him on the floor.

Because she dropped him on his head,
A screw got loose inside his brain:
He loved to spend the day in bed,
And hated getting up again.

And when the youth was twenty-one,
From any task he used to shrink;
No job of work he’d ever done;
He drove his poor Mama to drink.

He was the Prince of bearded freaks:
He got a bastard child, and so
He started wearing corduroy breeks,
And took to Art at twenty-two.

Because he couldn’t draw or paint,
He ran a painting class in Town;
Where bedlamites without restraint
Created abstracts upside down.

The females were seductive dears,
All out for love and wine and song:
They couldn’t squeeze or box his ears,
His hair and beard had grown so long:

His sophistries on Art appeared
In Sunday Press, with columns three;
They televised him with his beard;
He lectured on the B.B.C.

Then, after many abstract talks,
His chance of chances came along!
One morning after pulling corks,—
Not feeling quite so bon vivant,—

Not feeling as he’d like to be—
Not feeling quite so bon vivant,—
To cool his brain he’d go and see
The paintings of that crazy throng,—

That suicidal, jolly throng
Whose pictures caused such wide debate,
With legs and necks a mile too long,
That puzzle people in the Tate.

And there inside the Tate he met
That precious Vet.—Sir Piebald Park-
A leader of the cultured set
Who vetted pictures for a lark.

Before Sir Piebald did depart
He’d pumped him full of every name
That ever was in modern Art,
The ’Inskys and the stars of fame.

And then Sir Something Something came,
Tiptoeing through a further door;
Sir Piebald Park he introduced them,
And left them talking on the floor.

Sir Something Something, fraternising,
Began to tell him what to do;
Catechising and advising,
He gassed away till half—past two.

“Forget the beauty nature yields:
If you today would win success,
Away with silly sunlit fields ;
Redeem your soul with Ugliness!

“The Critics seek for Ugliness!
’Tis they who run the show today!
Impress the Press, and then, God Bless!
Your name is made, sir, right away!”

The talking man, he was so keen,
He grew more hotted up and hotted;
No single object had they seen,
No inspiration had they spotted;

With sculptured monsters all about,
And wire all twisted up and knotted,
Although the walls around did shout,
No single picture had they spotted;

In running rhyme, and all the time,
His voice resounding through the place;
He rattled on in lively rhyme
As fast as any trotting race!

“Tiddy-um ti-um-ti-um,
It may seem rather rum,
The great Sir Something Some-
thing said :—

The only thing for you
Is to think of something new
And put ’em in a stew
And knock ’em dead ! ! !

“If you want to be reviewed
By The Times with promptitude,
You do a monster nude
To weigh a ton;

With a belly to protrude
Of genetic magnitude
And leave it crude and rude
And half begun!

“Make the bottom large and round
Like a prehistoric mound,
All solemn and profound
To cultured eyes.

And chuck your weight around
And you’ll be with glory crowned,
And with twenty thousand pound
As a prize!!!”

.       .       .       .       .

Imagine then the closing scene;
The time was nearly half-past four;
They did not know how long they’d been
Upon the shiny, parquet floor.

And when the two had said “ Adieu ”
The long-haired fellow he returned;
And there inside his studio
His abstract passions blazed and burned.

He needed something to excite
His inner man and make him glad,
To fire his soul—to see the light—!
A special drink to make him mad.

He fancied Orange Curacao;
A brand that wasn’t spurious!
When mixed with gin it made him glow;
It made him feel luxurious! ! ‘

Down went the gin and Curacao,
It livened up his lassitude!
He’d drink a bottle just to show
These fellows how to paint a nude!

His inner fury all at work,
A lovely model then he found,
In whom no sauciness did lurk,
Although she was so soft and round.

And as he couldn’t paint or draw,
And as she wouldn’t let him cuddle,
Although not painting what he saw,
He got in such a bloody muddle!

What a muddle! Not to cuddle!
A stupid way to paint the nude!
And the patient posing model
She sat for days with fortitude.

One day at last she begs and begs
That she may be allowed to see,
If he had made her lovely legs
As lovely as they ought to be!

And after all her fortitude,
And patient posing for the picture,
When she beheld the monster nude,
She stood there rooted like a fixture!

Alas, her feelings! Who can tell?
Her heart was wounded to the core.
She screamed aloud and then she fell
And lay unconscious on the floor!

And as he went to lift her up,
And as his body came in contact
With lovely soft and rounded limbs,
He quite forgot about the abstract.

Filled with drink and indecision,
Upon a sofa then he laid her,
And gazing on the lovely vision,
Thought how lovely God had made her.

Then, watching her, he heard a sound
Of someone coming through the door.
He looked around and there he found
A “stranger” standing on the floor!

“I’m here! I’m William Etty’s* ghost!
I was a painter of the nude:
Of goddesses ! a mighty host,
In every kind of attitude,

“I strove to paint the forms I saw.
What Venus’s! And Juno’s too!
But there’s no need to paint or draw
For abstract mongers—fools like you!

“When all the crazy minds are loosed,
When Art is rushing down the drain;
When Art directors rule the roost.
A Nation’s soul is on the wane.

“I’m but a ghost, and you’re an ass,
A twentieth-century bearded goat:
You couldn’t paint that comely lass.
Go cut your hair or cut your throat! ”

Then as he spoke the model stirred
And opened one dark, lovely eye;
Then gave a scream that might be heard
From here to all eternity.

And like a violent mare that reared,
The wrathful, raging Venus rose,
And seized the painter by the beard,
And hit him bang upon the nose!

A raging Venus seeing red—
His red blood streaming to the floor:
And then she seized her robes and fled
And out she went and slammed the door!

And stamping round the studio,
The painter mopped his bloody nose.
Those ghostly eyes, they looked him through.
His evil passions then arose.

Spitting like a venomed adder,
And jeering at the fading ghost:
“You step again up Jacob’s ladder,
And go and join your Heavenly Host.

“And here’s a message you can give
To those old Masters in the sky:
Our modern Art is going to live
And their old junk is going to die!”

The ghost had fled, the model gone:
And then he switched on all the lights.
He faced his monster all alone:
Indeed it was a sight of sights!

And then he stood upon his head,
And viewed the monster upside down:
His nose and beard all bloody red ;—
A Master-piece! He’d won the crown.

.       .       .       .       .

Before he slept, one long, last glance
At his clear, abstract, swollen Dolly :—
He’d beaten all the lads in France.
At last, an English abstract folly! !

Next morning, lying late in bed—
His char had left him all alone—
A summons came as from the dead :—
A ringing of the telephone! !

’Twas Sir Herbert and Sir Something!
They wished to know if he’d be there!
And could they come and could they bring
A double multimillionaire?

And could they bring the President
Of the Con-tem-por-rary Arts ?
’Twas some mistake! An accident!
The message gave him fits and starts:

The meeting happened on a Sunday;
They met and talked and then they bought
His monster nude, and then on Monday
The artist found that he was sought

By many writers full of vigour,—
All precious critics one and all;
And soon his monster abstract figure
Hung in the centre of a wall

Of purple damask, in the Tate,
And people came from far away,
And all the folk who came too late
Were there at ten o’clock next day.

And the multitude applauded
When they were told it was profound;
And the painter was awarded
The prize of twenty thousand pound.

The critic on The Times was spiteful;
He thought the bottom far too square,
And not profound enough, and frightful,
But still the Judges didn’t care!

*William Etty—famous painter of the nude in early Victorian days.

Sir Alfred Munnings,1878-1959.  Ichabod Rubens. Ballads and Poems or a Rhyming Succession of Rhyming Digression,1957

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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