Maria Edgeworth – Belinda,1801.

paul-et-virginie-du-roman-aux-images-au-musee-leon-dierx.jpgChapter 14. The Exhibition

The next day, when they came to the exhibition, Lady Delacour had an opportunity of judging of Belinda’s real feelings. As they went up the stairs, they heard the voices of Sir Philip Baddely and Mr. Rochfort, who were standing upon the landing-place, leaning over the banisters, and running their little sticks along the iron rails, to try which could make the loudest noise.

“Have you been much pleased with the pictures, gentlemen?” said Lady Delacour, as she passed them.

“Oh, damme! no–’tis a cursed bore; and yet there are some fine pictures: one in particular–hey, Rochfort?–one damned fine picture!” said Sir Philip. And the two gentlemen laughing significantly, followed Lady Delacour and Belinda into the rooms.

“Ay, there’s one picture that’s worth all the rest, ‘pon honour!” repeated Rochfort; “and we’ll leave it to your ladyship’s and Miss Portman’s taste and judgment to find it out, mayn’t we, Sir Philip?”

“Oh, damme! yes,” said Sir Philip, “by all means.” But he was so impatient to direct her eyes, that he could not keep himself still an instant.

“Oh, curse it! Rochfort, we’d better tell the ladies at once, else they may be all day looking and looking!”

“Nay, Sir Philip, may not I be allowed to guess? Must I be told which is your fine picture?– This is not much in favour of my taste.”

“Oh, damn it! your ladyship has the best taste in the world, every body knows; and so has Miss Portman–and this picture will hit her taste particularly, I’m sure. It is Clarence Hervey’s fancy; but this is a dead secret–dead–Clary no more thinks that we know it, than the man in the moon.”

“Clarence Hervey’s fancy! Then I make no doubt of its being good for something,” said Lady Delacour, “if the painter have done justice to his imagination; for Clarence has really a fine imagination.”

“Oh, damme! ’tis not amongst the history pieces,” cried Sir Philip; “’tis a portrait.”

“And a history piece, too, ‘pon honour!” said Rochfort: “a family history piece, I take it, ‘pon honour! it will turn out,” said Rochfort; and both the gentlemen were, or affected to be, thrown into convulsions of laughter, as they repeated the words, “family history piece, ‘pon honour!–family history piece, damme!”

“I’ll take my oath as to the portrait’s being a devilish good likeness,” added Sir Philip; and as he spoke, he turned to Miss Portman: “Miss Portman has it! damme, Miss Portman has him!”

Belinda hastily withdrew her eyes from the picture at which she was looking. “A most beautiful creature!” exclaimed Lady Delacour.

“Oh, faith! yes; I always do Clary the justice to say, he has a damned good taste for beauty.”

“But this seems to be foreign beauty,” continued Lady Delacour, “if one may judge by her air, her dress, and the scenery about her–cocoa-trees, plantains: Miss Portman, what think you?”

“I think,” said Belinda, (but her voice faltered so much that she could hardly speak,) “that it is a scene from Paul and Virginia. I think the figure is St. Pierre’s Virginia.”

“Virginia St. Pierre! ma’am,” cried Mr. Rochfort, winking at Sir Philip. “No, no, damme! there you are wrong, Rochfort; say Hervey’s Virginia, and then you have it, damme! or, may be, Virginia Hervey–who knows?”

“This is a portrait,” whispered the baronet to Lady Delacour, “of Clarence’s mistress.” Whilst her ladyship leant her ear to this whisper, which was sufficiently audible, she fixed a seemingly careless, but most observing, inquisitive eye upon poor Belinda. Her confusion, for she heard the whisper, was excessive.

“She loves Clarence Hervey–she has no thoughts of Lord Delacour and his coronet: I have done her injustice,” thought Lady Delacour, and instantly she despatched Sir Philip out of the room, for a catalogue of the pictures, begged Mr. Rochfort to get her something else, and, drawing Miss Portman’s arm within hers, she said, in a low voice, “Lean upon me, my dearest Belinda: depend upon it, Clarence will never be such a fool as to marry the girl–Virginia Hervey she will never be!”

“And what will become of her? can Mr. Hervey desert her? she looks like innocence itself–and so young, too! Can he leave her for ever to sorrow, and vice, and infamy?” thought Belinda, as she kept her eyes fixed, in silent anguish, upon the picture of Virginia. “No, he cannot do this: if he could he would be unworthy of me, and I ought to think of him no more. No; he will marry her; and I must think of him no more.”

She turned abruptly away from the picture, and she saw Clarence Hervey standing beside her.

“What do you think of this picture? is it not beautiful? We are quite enchanted with it; but you do not seem to be struck with it, as we were at the first glance,” said Lady Delacour.

“Because,” answered Clarence, gaily, “it is not the first glance I have had at that picture–I admired it yesterday, and admire it to-day.”

“But you are tired of admiring it, I see. Well, we shall not force you to be in raptures with it–shall we, Miss Portman? A man may be tired of the most beautiful face in the world, or the most beautiful picture; but really there is so much sweetness, so much innocence, such tender melancholy in this countenance, that, if I were a man, I should inevitably be in love with it, and in love for ever! Such beauty, if it were in nature, would certainly fix the most inconstant man upon earth.”

Belinda ventured to take her eyes for an instant from the picture, to see whether Clarence Hervey looked like the most inconstant man upon earth. He was intently gazing upon her; but as soon as she looked round, he suddenly exclaimed, as he turned to the picture–“A heavenly countenance, indeed!–the painter has done justice to the poet.”

“Poet!” repeated Lady Delacour: “the man’s in the clouds!”

“Pardon me,” said Clarence; “does not M. de St. Pierre deserve to be called a poet? Though he does not write in rhyme, surely he has a poetical imagination.”

“Certainly,” said Belinda; and from the composure with which Mr. Hervey now spoke, she was suddenly inclined to believe, or to hope, that all Sir Philip’s story was false. “M. de St. Pierre undoubtedly has a great deal of imagination, and deserves to be called a poet.”

“Very likely, good people!” said Lady Delacour; “but what has that to do with the present purpose?”

“Nay,” cried Clarence, “your ladyship certainly sees that this is St. Pierre’s Virginia?”

“St. Pierre’s Virginia! Oh, I know who it is, Clarence, as well as you do. I am not quite so blind, or so stupid, as you take me to be.” Then recollecting her promise, not to betray Sir Philip’s secret, she added, pointing to the landscape of the picture, “These cocoa trees, this fountain, and the words Fontaine de Virginie, inscribed on the rock–I must have been stupidity itself, if I had not found it out. I absolutely can read, Clarence, and spell, and put together. But here comes Sir Philip Baddely, who, I believe, cannot read, for I sent him an hour ago for a catalogue, and he pores over the book as if he had not yet made out the title.”

Sir Philip had purposely delayed, because he was afraid of rejoining Lady Delacour whilst Clarence Hervey was with her, and whilst they were talking of the picture of Virginia.

“Here’s the catalogue; here’s the picture your ladyship wants. St. Pierre’s Virginia: damme! I never heard of that fellow before–he is some new painter, damme! that is the reason I did not know the hand. Not a word of what I told you, Lady Delacour–you won’t blow us to Clary,” added he aside to her ladyship. “Rochfort keeps aloof; and so will I, damme!”

A gentleman at this instant beckoned to Mr Hervey with an air of great eagerness. Clarence went and spoke to him, then returned with an altered countenance, and apologized to Lady Delacour for not dining with her, as he had promised. Business, he said, of great importance required that he should leave town immediately. Helena had just taken Miss Portman into a little room, where Westall’s drawings were hung, to show her a group of Lady Anne Percival and her children; and Belinda was alone with the little girl, when Mr Hervey came to bid her adieu. He was in much agitation.

———————————————-

Maria Edgeworth, 1768-1849

Title: Belinda,1801

Maria Edgworth, 1768-1849, was a British writer, associated with the Anglo-Irish Tory gentry, notable for her observations on social conventions through well-observed dialogue and challenging moral views on the politics, Catholic emancipation, agricultural reform, education, anti-semitism and the role of property and the injustices caused by English and Irish absentee landlords. Her major novels are Castle Rackrent1800; Belinda1801; Leonora, 1806; The Absentee1812; Patronage,1814; and Harrington, 1817; Ormond, 1817.

The novel Belinda, 1801, was considered controversial in its day, owing to its depiction of interracial marriage. In the 1810 publication, some characters were replaced and the interracial plot lines were omitted completely. In ‘The Exhibition’, chapter 14 of Belinda, during a visit by Lady Delacour to the picture gallery of Clarence Hervey, she is directed to a picture of ‘Paul and Virginie’ illustrating a scene from Jacques-Henri Bernadin de Saint-Pierre’s novel ‘Paul et Virginie’, 1788 set on the French colony of Ile-de-France (Mauritius). The novel tells the story of two childhood friends who become lovers, and is an Enlightenment story of a child of nature whose moral views are corrupted by the false sentimentality of the French bourgeoisie and aristocracy on the eve of the French Revolution.  

Lady Delacour, who is a mercenary rival suitor to Belinda for the hand and estate of Clarence Hervey, is advised by Sir Phillip Baddely that the picture is of Mr Hervey’s ‘native’ mistress. As part of the intrigue, Mr Hervey warns Belinda as a friend that it is being rumoured that Belinda would marry Lord Delacour after his wife’s death. Belinda is a traditional courtship novel of the period where women might seek socially suitable fortune-hunting marriages. Belinda is a Romantic heroine who champions innocence,  love and feelings over marital duty and compatibility in a treatment of themes popularised by Jane Austen.

In Chapter XXV of her novel ‘Patronage’, 1814, Edgeworth portrays the importance of painting as a symbol of lineage and marriageability in the sentence, “A picture is no very dangerous rival, except in a modern novel.” 

The characters
Belinda Portman – the heroine
Mrs Stanhope – Belinda’s matchmaking aunt
Lady Delacour – the society hostess with whom Belinda stays in London
Lord Delacour – Lady Delacour’s dissolute husband
Clarence Hervey – Belinda’s suitor #1
Sir Philip Baddeley – one of Mr Hervey’s dissipated friends and Belinda’s suitor #2
Mr Rochfort – another of Mr Hervey’s dissipated friends
Mr Vincent – Belinda’s suitor #3 – a rich West Indian gentleman
Mr Henry Percival – a gentleman who once loved Lady Delacour, but who has found happiness in his second attachment
Lady Anne Percival – Mr Percival’s wife, seemingly the perfect wife and mother
Helena Delacour – Lady Delacour’s only surviving child
Margaret Delacour – Lord Delacour’s sister
Mrs Luttridge – Lady Delacour’s rival
Mrs Harriet Freke – once Lady Delacour’s friend, but now her bitterest enemy
Marriott – Lady Delacour’s maid
Champfort – Lord Delacour’s manservant
Virginia St Pierre – a young woman living under Mr Hervey’s protection
Mrs Ormond – Virginia’s companion
Mr Moreton – a clergyman who was badly treated by Harriet Freke but rewarded by Mr Hervey
Mr Hartley – Virginia’s father
A good summary of the novel / moral tale by Rachel Knowles can be found at: https://www.regencyhistory.net/2016/04/belinda-by-maria-edgeworth-regency.html
Images: 1. Maria Edgeworth – Belinda. Belinda at the exhibition. 1896
2. Paul et Virginie

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)

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

Wilkie Collins – Hide and Seek, or the Mystery of Mary Grice, 1854

Book I. The Hiding. Chapter II. Mr. Blyth in his Studio

It was wintry weather–not such a November winter’s day as some of us may remember looking at fourteen years ago, in Baregrove Square, but a brisk frosty morning in January. The country view visible from the back windows of Mr. Blyth’s house, which stood on the extreme limit of the new suburb, was thinly and brightly dressed out for the sun’s morning levee, in its finest raiment of pure snow. The cold blue sky was cloudless; every sound out of doors fell on the ear with a hearty and jocund ring; all newly-lit fires burnt up brightly and willingly without coaxing; and the robin-redbreasts hopped about expectantly on balconies and windowsills, as if they only waited for an invitation to walk in and warm themselves, along with their larger fellow creatures, round the kindly hearth.

The Studio was a large and lofty room, lighted by a skylight, and running along the side of the house throughout its whole depth. Its walls were covered with plain brown paper, and its floor was only carpeted in the middle. The most prominent pieces of furniture were two large easels placed at either extremity of the room; each supporting a picture of considerable size, covered over for the present with a pair of sheets which looked woefully in want of washing. There was a painting-stand with quantities of shallow little drawers, some too full to open, others, again, too full to shut; there was a movable platform to put sitters on, covered with red cloth much disguised in dust; there was a small square table of new deal, and a large round table of dilapidated rosewood, both laden with sketch-books, portfolios, dog’s-eared sheets of drawing paper, tin pots, scattered brushes, palette-knives, rags variously defiled by paint and oil, pencils, chalks, port-crayons–the whole smelling powerfully at all points of turpentine.

Finally, there were chairs in plenty, no one of which, however, at all resembled the other. In one corner stood a moldy antique chair with a high back, and a basin of dirty water on the seat. By the side of the fireplace a cheap straw chair of the beehive pattern was tilted over against a dining-room chair, with a horse-hair cushion. Before the largest of the two pictures, and hard by a portable flight of steps, stood a rickety office-stool. On the platform for sitters a modern easy chair, with the cover in tatters, invited all models to picturesque repose. Close to the rosewood table was placed a rocking-chair, and between the legs of the deal table were huddled together a camp-stool and a hassock. In short, every remarkable variety of the illustrious family of Seats was represented in one corner or another of Mr. Blyth’s painting-room.

All the surplus small articles which shelves, tables, and chairs were unable to accommodate, reposed in comfortable confusion on the floor. One half at least of a pack of cards seemed to be scattered about in this way. A shirt-collar, three gloves, a boot, a shoe, and half a slipper; a silk stocking, and a pair of worsted muffetees; three old play-bills rolled into a ball; a pencil-case, a paper-knife, a tooth-powder-box without a lid, and a superannuated black-beetle trap turned bottom upwards, assisted in forming part of the heterogeneous collection of rubbish strewed about the studio floor. And worse than all–as tending to show that the painter absolutely enjoyed his own disorderly habits–Mr. Blyth had jocosely desecrated his art, by making it imitate litter where, in all conscience, there was real litter enough already. Just in the way of anybody entering the room, he had painted, on the bare floor, exact representations of a new quill pen and a very expensive-looking sable brush, lying all ready to be trodden upon by entering feet. Fresh visitors constantly attested the skillfulness of these imitations by involuntarily stooping to pick up the illusive pen and brush; Mr. Blyth always enjoying the discomfiture and astonishment of every new victim, as thoroughly as if the practical joke had been a perfectly new one on each successive occasion.

Such was the interior condition of the painting-room, after the owner had inhabited it for a period of little more than two months!

The church-clock of the suburb has just struck ten, when quick, light steps approach the studio door. A gentleman enters–trips gaily over the imitative pen and brush–and, walking up to the fire, begins to warm his back at it, looking about him rather absently, and whistling “Drops of Brandy” in the minor key. This gentleman is Mr. Valentine Blyth.

He looks under forty, but is really a little over fifty. His face is round and rosy, and not marked by a single wrinkle in any part of it. He has large, sparkling black eyes; wears neither whiskers, beard, nor mustache; keeps his thick curly black hair rather too closely cut; and has a briskly-comical kindness of expression in his face, which it is not easy to contemplate for the first time without smiling at him. He is tall and stout, always wears very tight trousers, and generally keeps his wristbands turned up over the cuffs of his coat. All his movements are quick and fidgety. He appears to walk principally on his toes, and seems always on the point of beginning to dance, or jump, or run whenever he moves about, either in or out of doors. When he speaks he has an odd habit of ducking his head suddenly, and looking at the person whom he addresses over his shoulder. These, and other little personal peculiarities of the same undignified nature, all contribute to make him exactly that sort of person whom everybody shakes hands with, and nobody bows to, on a first introduction. Men instinctively choose him to be the recipient of a joke, girls to be the male confidant of all flirtations which they like to talk about, children to be their petitioner for the pardon of a fault, or the reward of a half-holiday. On the other hand, he is decidedly unpopular among that large class of Englishmen, whose only topics of conversation are public nuisances and political abuses; for he resolutely looks at everything on the bright side, and has never read a leading article or a parliamentary debate in his life. In brief, men of business habits think him a fool, and intellectual women with independent views cite him triumphantly as an excellent specimen of the inferior male sex.

Still whistling, Mr. Blyth walks towards an earthen pipkin in one corner of the studio, and takes from it a little china palette which he has neglected to clean since he last used it. Looking round the room for some waste paper, on which he can deposit the half-dried old paint that has been scraped off with the palette knife, Mr. Blyth’s eyes happen to light first on the deal table, and on four or five notes which lie scattered over it.

These he thinks will suit his purpose as well as anything else, so he takes up the notes, but before making use of them, reads their contents over for the second time–partly by way of caution, partly though a dawdling habit, which men of his absent disposition are always too ready to contract. Three of these letters happen to be in the same scrambling, blotted handwriting. They are none of them very long, and are the production of a former acquaintance of the reader’s, who has somewhat altered in height and personal appearance during the course of the last fourteen years. Here is the first of the notes which Valentine is now reading:–

“Dear Blyth,–My father says Theaters are the Devil’s Houses, and I must be home by eleven o’clock. I’m sure I never did anything wrong at a Theater, which I might not have done just the same anywhere else; unless laughing over a good play is one of the _national sins_ he’s always talking about. I can’t stand it much longer, even for my mother’s sake! You are my only friend. I shall come and see you to-morrow, so mind and be at home. How I wish I was an artist! Yours ever, Z. THORPE, JUN.”

Shaking his head and smiling at the same time, Mr. Blyth finishes this letter–drops a perfect puddle of dirty paint and turpentine in the middle, over the words “national sins,” throws the paper into the fire–and goes on to note number two:

“Dear Blyth,–I couldn’t come yesterday, because of another quarrel at home, and my mother crying about it, of course. My father smelt tobacco smoke at morning prayers. It was my coat, which I forgot to air at the fire the night before; and he found it out, and said he wouldn’t have me smoke, because it led to dissipation–but I told him (which is true) that lots of parsons smoked. I wish you visited at our house, and could come and say a word on my side. Dear Blyth, I am perfectly wretched; for I have had all my cigars taken from me; and I am, yours truly, Z. THORPE, JUN.”

A third note is required before the palette can be scraped clean. Mr. Blyth reads the contents rather gravely on this occasion; rapidly plastering his last morsels of waste paint upon the paper as he goes on, until at length it looks as if it had been well peppered with all the colors of the rainbow.

Zack’s third letter of complaint certainly promised serious domestic tribulation for the ruling power at Baregrove Square:–

“Dear Blyth,–I have given in–at least for the present. I told my father about my wanting to be an artist, and about your saying that I had a good notion of drawing, and an eye for a likeness; but I might just as well have talked to one of your easels. He means to make a man of business of me. And here I have been, for the last three weeks, at a Tea Broker’s office in the city, in consequence. They all say it’s a good opening for me, and talk about the respectability of commercial pursuits. I don’t want to be respectable, and I hate commercial pursuits. What is the good of forcing me into a merchant’s office, when I can’t say my Multiplication table? Ask my mother about that: _she’ll_ tell you! Only fancy me going round tea warehouses in filthy Jewish places like St. Mary-Axe, to take samples, with a blue bag to carry them about in; and a dirty junior clerk, who cleans his pen in his hair, to teach me how to fold up parcels! Isn’t it enough to make my blood boil to think of it? I can’t go on, and I won’t go on in this way! Mind you’re at home to-morrow; I’m coming to speak to you about how I’m to begin learning to be an artist. The junior clerk is going to do all my sampling work for me in the morning; and we are to meet in the afternoon, after I have come away from you, at a chop-house; and then go back to the office as if we had been together all day, just as usual. Ever yours, Z. THORPE, JUN.–P. S. My mind’s made up: if the worst comes to the worst, I shall leave home.”

“Oh, dear me! oh, dear! dear me!” says Valentine, mournfully rubbing his palette clean with a bit of rag. “What will it all end in, I wonder. Old Thorpe’s going just the way, with his obstinate severity, to drive Zack to something desperate. Coming here to-morrow, he says?” continues Mr. Blyth, approaching the smallest of the two pictures, placed on easels at opposite extremities of the room. “Coming to-morrow! He never dates his notes; but I suppose, as this one came last night, to-morrow means to-day.”

Saying these words with eyes absently fixed on his picture, Valentine withdraws the sheet stretched over the canvas, and discloses a Classical Landscape of his own composition.

If Mr. Blyth had done nothing else in producing the picture which now confronted him, he had at least achieved one great end of all Classic Art, by reminding nobody of anything simple, familiar, or pleasing to them in nature. In the foreground of his composition, were the three lanky ruined columns, the dancing Bacchantes, the musing philosopher, the mahogany-colored vegetation, and the bosky and branchless trees, with which we have all been familiar, from our youth upwards, in “classical compositions.” Down the middle of the scene ran that wonderful river, which is always rippling with the same regular waves; and always bearing onward the same capsizable galleys, with the same vermilion and blue revelers striking lyres on the deck. On the bank where there was most room for it, appeared our old, old friend, the architectural City, which nobody could possibly live in; and which is composed of nothing but temples, towers, monuments, flights of steps, and bewildering rows of pillars. In the distance, our favorite blue mountains were as blue and as peaky as ever, on Valentine’s canvas; and our generally-approved pale yellow sun was still disfigured by the same attack of aerial jaundice, from which he has suffered ever since classical compositions first forbade him to take refuge from the sight behind a friendly cloud.

After standing before his picture in affectionate contemplation of its beauties for a minute or so, Valentine resumes the business of preparing his palette.

Wilkie Collins, 1824-1889

Title: Hide and Seek, or the Mystery of Mary Grice 1854

Will Self – Great Apes, 1997


When the two chimps emerged from George’s office, some twenty minutes, two drinks, and three lines later, the gallery was already beginning to fill up. It was the usual sort of opening crowd – or at any rate the usual sort of crowd attracted to one of Simon Dykes’s openings. The group of younger conceptual artists who were currently dominating the scene in London were among the first to arrive.

Tony knew them all – of course. He’d met them at the Sealink, or out with the Braithwaites, who were closer to them in both age and aesthetic. Tony found them – at least collectively – more than a little affected, if not absurd. They were now hanging about the place, all either dressed to the nines, or looking like dossers, ostentatiously not grooming one another. There were a couple of females among them – both attractive, both with magnificent pink bulging swellings – and yet none of the males made any attempt to display to them – let alone mate.

The ‘Like, chimp, we don’t groom’ act was constantly being undercut by the nervous and repetitive presenting they all indulged in. They’d try to restrain themselves, but when – as now – someone like Jay Jopling, the dealer and prestigious owner of the White Cube, swung into the room, they would all begin to grunt and shuffle backwards towards him, arses frantically wagging.

They tried – Tony Figes reflected – to prevent themselves, but they couldn’t. For all their vaunted membership of the avant-garde, whatever that was, they were just like everybody else, addicted to the pecking order and the superior’s arse-lick – however cursory.

But neither Tony, nor more importantly George, was worried aboout the Conceptualists. They had a certain – albeit grudging respect for Simon and his work. As for the mental breakdown, Tony supposed they would in their normal, perverse way regard it as being cool. No, the worrying chimps were those like Vanessa Agridge, the pushy hack from Contemporanea who had just knuckle-walked into the gallery. The glossy manipulators of the press were going to to have free range when they got an eyeful of this stuff. Tony pulled himself together. The liquor had calmed his body, and the coke had honed his mind. He would try to poke some sense into the critics he knew, and when Sarah swung, he’d look after her, keep her under his wing.

George Levinson was gesticulating with the art critic of the The Times, a bigoted New Zealander denoted Gareth ‘Grunt’ Feltham. They are of course “gru-nn” explorations of the chimp body, the essence of chimpness. Freud, after all, said that the ego is first and foremost a bodily ego “huuu”?

‘”Wraaf”! I’m not so sure about that, Levinson. It would sem to me “euch-euch” that the soul comes into all of this, and here we see paintings that exploit the bodies of chimps – and furthermore make a mockery of their souls, “HooooGraaa,” he pant-hooted forcefully, while aiming a ock blow at George’s head, then resumed his imperious signing.

‘”Euch-Euch” you know, I’ve always had my reservations about your chimp Dykes’s work and I have to sign, Levinson that this sort of thing confirms them.’ He gestured with one of his large hairy hands at the work in front of them, Flat Pack Stops at Ebola. ‘”Waaa” what does he mean by this – this cheap, essentially degrading vision “huu”? Feltham was furiously agitated and he now proceeded to lift back his head and unleash from behind canines winnowed by decay and yellowed by tobacco, a series of spine-tingling hoots and barks: “HoooooGra! Wraaaf! HoooooGra! Wraaaaf”!

Whereupon other critics, throughout the gallery, also put their rented galsses on the floor, braced themselves and began to vocalise. “HoooooGra!” The air was thick with their vineuos exhalations, and George felt quite queasy, regretting the drinks and lines he’d had with Tony. Some of the critics even began drumming on the walls and flooors until solicitiously requested not to by the gallery females, But amidst all the vocalising, George couldn’t really tell if any kind of fusion was emerging.

There were now well over fifty chimps in the gallery. Critics, collectors, dealers, artists and their hangers-on. Thankfully, George noted, the ratio of females on oestrus was fairly high, and quite a lot of attention was taken up with displays of one kind and another, but unrelated to the show itself. Indeed, after the vocalising had died down Feltham stopped applying pressure to George and shamelessly thrust his index finger into the ischial scrag of a passing female. She slapped his hand away, and Feltham brought it to his nostrils. “Gru-nn Gru-nn,” he sniffle-grunted, then signed, ‘She can’t be more than a week off, excuse me, will you, Levinson – not exactly your bag “huuu”?

George shucked off the insult, he couldn’t be bothered to fight with the burly critic over such crassness. Later though, he was thrilled to see the burly critic mating the female at the far end of the gallery, his corduroy jacket riding down over his scut as he panted and tooth-clacked, and judging by the weary expression of the female – whose muzzle was pressed hard into the carpeting –not managing to effect climax in either of them.

George looked once more at Flat Pack Stops at Ebola. As with Simon’s othe rpaintings there was an infant at the centre. In this case, the poor mite was haemorrhaging horribly from mouth and anus, the blood pouring down its coat and on to the flat pack in question, which was – according to the atencilled lettering on its side – for assembly into an attractive, freestanding wine rack. Simon had caught the feel of an aisle at the Swedish furniture supermarlet, Ikea, perfectly. The bland irradiation of overhead lighting, the bays full of of flat packs for assembly into tables, chairs, shelving units and stereo cabinets. In this environment, constructed, as it was, to determine a pre-fabricated choice, the imposition of violent, contingent death was obscene.

Particularly the form of death Simon had chosen to portray. Drawing on accounts of the outbreak of Ebola in Central Africa, he had envisioned the effects of the flesh-dissolving virus, massively speeded up on a group of furniture shoppers. The figures of the adult chimps were distressing enough, the blood, excrement and bile had worked into their coats and they slumped here and there against the flat packs, cradling one another’s heads. But the sight of the infant on the wine rack was revolting.

‘”Hooo,” George cried quietly and turned to confront the gallery. He swa Sarah Peasenhulme swagger in through the door, flanked by by the Braithwaites. Immediately all three were surronded by yammering chimps, some of whom presented to Sarah, while others tried to display to her. She was still in the full flower of oestrus, her swelling massive and pinkly gleaming, as if a party balloon were rammed between her thighs.

Some of the crowd mobbing her toting camcorders clearly intending to get some signs from her on tape. George decided he’d better intervene. He bounded quickly up, hugging the walls so as to avoid the mêlée. When he was within a few hands of Sarah he drummed the reception desk and vocalised, “Wraaaaaf!” It was the most ferocious vocalisation anybody could ever remember him mmaking, and his fierce expression and bared canines belied – for once – his ridiculous oval Oliver Peeples fashion eyewear, his shot-silk jacket by Alexander McQueen, and the faux swelling-protector Tony Figes had signlessly derided.

The group fissioned slightly and George was able to get inside the hackled huddle, grab Sarah’s arm and bodily haul her out. ‘”Hoooo” come on Sarah,’ he inparted, ‘you don’t want to be doing with these chimps.’

‘H’huuuu?” George, what is it? Why are they so aggressive?’

Have you seen Simon’s canveses, Sarah? Did he show them to you ”huu”?’ George led her the length of the gallery, aiming for the back office.

‘Some, Gorge. He let me in the studio a couple of time. I recognise that one of the King Kong figure in Oxford Circus… and that one of the crashing plane. Is it the subject matter “huu?” Is that what they’re worked up about “huu?”’

‘Yes, that and of course Simon’s breakdown … And I imagine – given the utter prurience of the press and the rest of this bloody carnival –your being in oestus doesn’t help.’

It wasn’t helping. Even in the short time it took them to knuckle-walk to the far end of the gallery, George and Sarah acquired more attention. A chimp denoted Pelham, a feature writer for the Sundays, was displaying to Sarah, waving a copy of the Evening Standard about. More impressively, Flixou, the sculptor, a massive, tough chimp of legendary strength and sexual prowess was blatantly importuning as awell; panting, squealing and grabbing sheets of newspaper away from Pelham. It looked very much as if there was going to be a serious scrap between the two males.

‘”Err-herr-herr” George, I don’t want this. I don’t want to be here…It’s, it’s…’ Her fingers went up above her head to grasp and describe the scene; the agitated chimps grooming, drinking, gesticulating and mating. ‘Like a bloody zoo!’

Will Self, b. 1961.  Great Apes, 1997.  (Chapter 11)

Evelyn Waugh – My Father’s House (from Work Suspended), 1943

My father dressed as he thought a painter should, in a distinct and recognizable garb which made him a familiar and, in his later years, a venerable figure as he took his exercise in the streets round his house. There was no element of ostentation in his poncho capes, check suits, sombrero hats and stock ties. It was rather that he thought it fitting for a man to proclaim unequivocally his station in life, and despised those of his colleagues who seemed to be passing themselves off as guardsmen and stockbrokers. In general he liked his fellow academicians, though I never heard him express anything but contempt for their work. He regarded the Academy as a club; he enjoyed the dinners and frequently attended the schools, where he was able to state his views on art in Johnsonian terms. He never doubted that the function of painting was representational. He criticized his colleagues for such faults as incorrect anatomy, “triviality” and “insincerity.” For this he was loosely spoken of as a conservative, but that he never was where his art was concerned. He abominated the standards of his youth. He must have been an intransigently old-fashioned young man, for he was brought up in the heyday of Whistlerian decorative painting and his first exhibited work was of a balloon ascent in Manchester—a large canvas crowded with human drama, in the manner of Frith. His practice was chiefly in portraits—many of them posthumous—for presentation to colleges and guildhalls. He seldom succeeded with women whom he endowed with a statuesque absurdity which was half deliberate, but given the robes of a Doctor of Music or a Knight of Malta and he would do something fit to hang with the best panelling in the country; given some whiskers and he was a master. “As a young man I specialized in hair,” he would say, rather as a doctor might say he specialized in noses and throats. “I paint it incomparably. Nowadays nobody has any to paint,” and it was this aptitude of his which led him to the long, increasingly unsaleable series of historical and scriptural groups, and the scenes of domestic melodrama by which he is known—subjects which had already become slightly ludicrous when he was in his cradle, but which he continued to produce year after year while experimental painters came and went until, right at the end of his life, he suddenly, without realizing it, found himself in the fashion. The first sign of this was in 1929 when his “Agag before Samuel” was bought at a provincial exhibition for 750 guineas. It was a large canvas at which he had been at work intermittently since 1908. Even he spoke of it, with conscious understatement, as “something of a white elephant.” White elephants indeed were almost the sole species of four-footed animal that was not, somewhere, worked into this elaborate composition. When asked why he had introduced such a variety of fauna, he replied, “I’m sick of Samuel. I’ve lived with him for twenty years. Every time it comes back from an exhibition I paint out a Jew and put in an animal. If I live long enough I’ll have a Noah’s ark in its background.”

The purchaser of this work was Sir Lionel Sterne.

“Honest Sir Lionel,” said my father, as he saw the great canvas packed off to Kensington Palace Gardens. “I should dearly have liked to shake his hairy paw. I can see him well—a fine, meaty fellow with a great gold watch-chain across his belly, who’s been decently employed boiling soap or smelting copper all his life, with no time to read Clive Bell. In every age it has been men like him who kept painting alive.”

I tried to explain that Lionel Sterne was the youthful and elegant millionaire who for ten years had been a leader of aesthetic fashion. “Nonsense!” said my father. “Fellows like that collect disjointed Negresses by Gauguin. Only Philistines like my work and, by God, I only like Philistines.”

There was also another, rather less reputable side to my father’s business. He received a regular yearly retaining fee from Goodchild and Godley, the Duke Street dealers, for what was called “restoration.” This sum was a very important part of his income; without it the comfortable little dinners, the trips abroad, the cabs to and fro between St. John’s Wood and the Athenaeum, the faithful, predatory Jellabys, the orchid in his buttonhole—all the substantial comforts and refinements which endeared the world and provided him with his air of gentlemanly ease—would have been impossible to him. The truth was that, while excelling at Lely, my father could paint, very passably, in the manner of almost any of the masters of English portraiture and the private and public collections of the New World were richly representative of his versatility. Very few of his friends knew this traffic; to those who did, he defended it with complete candour. “Goodchild and Godley buy these pictures for what they are—my own work. They pay me no more than my dexterity merits. What they do with them afterwards is their own business. It would ill become me to go officiously about the markets identifying my own handicraft and upsetting a number of perfectly contented people. It is a great deal better for them to look at beautiful pictures and enjoy them under a misconception about the date, than to make themselves dizzy by goggling at genuine Picassos.”

It was largely on account of his work for Goodchild and Godley that his studio was strictly reserved as a workshop. It was a separate building approached through the garden and it was excluded from general use. Once a year, when he went abroad it was “done out”; once a year, on the Sunday before sending-in day at the Royal Academy it was open to his friends. He took a peculiar pleasure from the gloom of these annual tea parties and was at the same pains to make them dismal as he was on all other occasions to enliven his entertainments. There was a species of dry, bright yellow, caraway cake which was known to my childhood as “Academy cake,” which appeared then and only then, from a grocer in Praed Street; there was an enormous Worcester tea service—a wedding present—which was known as “Academy cups”; there were “Academy sandwiches”—tiny, triangular and quite tasteless. All these things were part of my earliest memories. I do not know at what date these parties changed from being a rather tedious convention to what they certainly were to my father at the end of his life, a huge, grim and solitary jest. If I was in England I was required to attend and to bring a friend or two. It was difficult, until the last two years when, as I have said, my father became the object of fashionable interest, to collect guests. “When I was a young man,” my father said, sardonically surveying the company, “there were twenty or more of these parties in St. John’s Wood alone. People of culture drove round from three in the afternoon to six, from Campden Hill to Hampstead. Today I believe our little gathering is the sole survivor of that deleterious tradition.”

On these occasions his year’s work—Goodchild and Godley’s items excepted—would be ranged round the studio on mahogany easels; the most important work had a wall to itself against a background of scarlet rep. I had been present at the last of the parties the year before. The recollection was remarkable. Lionel Sterne was there, Lady Metroland and a dozen fashionable connoisseurs. My father was at first rather suspicious of his new clients and suspected an impertinent intrusion into his own private joke, a calling of his bluff of seed-cake and cress sandwiches; but their commissions reassured him. People did not carry a joke to such extravagant lengths. Mrs. Algernon Stitch paid 500 guineas for his picture of the year—a tableau of contemporary life conceived and painted with elaborate mastery. My father attached great importance to suitable titles for his work, and after toying with “The People’s Idol,” “Feet of Clay,” “Not on the First Night,” “Their Night of Triumph,” “Success and Failure,” “Not Invited,” “Also Present,” he finally called this picture rather enigmatically “The Neglected Cue.” It represented the dressing room of a leading actress at the close of a triumphant first night. She sat at the dressing table, her back turned on the company and her face visible in the mirror, momentarily relaxed in fatigue. Her protector with proprietary swagger was filling the glasses for a circle of admirers. In the background the dresser was in colloquy at the half-open door with an elderly couple of provincial appearance; it is evident from their costume that they have seen the piece from the cheaper seats, and a commissionaire stands behind them uncertain whether he did right in admitting them. He did not do right; they are her old parents arriving most inopportunely. There was no questioning Mrs. Stitch’s rapturous enjoyment of her acquisition.

I was never to know how my father would react to his vogue. He could paint in any way he chose; perhaps he would have embarked on those vague assemblages of picnic litter which used to cover the walls of the Mansard Gallery in the early twenties; he might have retreated to the standards of the Grosvenor Gallery in the nineties. He might, perhaps, have found popularity less inacceptable than he supposed and allowed himself a luxurious and cosetted old age. He died with his 1932 picture still unfinished. I saw its early stage on my last visit to him; it represented an old shipwright pondering on the idle dockyard where lay the great skeleton of the Cunarder that was later to be known as the Queen Mary. It was to have been called “Too Big?” My father had given the man a grizzled beard and was revelling in it. That was the last time I saw him.

Evelyn Waugh, 1903-1966 

My Father’s House (from Work Suspended), 1943

Image: Samuel hews Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal. ( Samuel 15:32, 33) from: Figures de la Bible (1728)