I recently completed a very interesting commission. It was to paint a pair of miniatures exactly replicating very large oil paintings of my client’s ancestors. Quite a challenging undertaking but here are the results (with permission of the client).
Each year Henley hosts a Literary Festival. And each year it gets better and better. With the rain lashing down on Monday morning I looked forward to hearing the author Jilly Cooper talking about a real War Horse. ‘Twas not to be as I became so involved in solving a problem on my current painting that when I got ready to drive to the Kenton Theatre I realised I was already half an hour late! Pity because I wanted to ask her that when she lists the characters in the first few pages of her books in alphabetical order to do it by first names too. (There are so many characters in her blockbusters that as soon as I get into the stories everyone is referred to by their first names which means I have to wade through all the surnames to find out who is who!)
Never mind, I was well in time the following morning to board the ‘Hibernia’ for an hour-long trip down the river while listening to some of the finest poetry and prose read by very talented actors. Here they are sitting at the stern of the boat.
It was a lovely day as we cruised towards Marsh Lock, then down river tp Temple Island and finally back to Hobbs Boatyard in Henley. One of the actors – Rula Lenska – told me that the miniature I painted of her last year is now hanging on the wall in her brand new grandson’s room.
Between dashing home to spend more time on my Queen’s visit to Henley painting I’ve managed to go to at least half-a-dozen Literary Festival events, from Richard Ingrams (co-founder of ‘Private Eye’ and now editor of ‘The Oldie’) to the splendidly presented talk by Anne De Courcy about her new book ‘The Fishing Fleet – Husband Hunting in the Raj’.
In the India of the Raj, thousands of Britain’s best and brightest young men went out to India as administrators, soldiers or businessmen. With the lure of marriage and a lavish social life, countless young women followed in their wake. They were called ‘The Fishing Fleet’. I was amused by the author’s comments when she told us that the (very few) women who didn’t find husbands – either because they were too plain, argumentative, or in other ways not chosen as brides, and came back to England – were called ‘Returned Empties’. By the early 20th Century India offered dances, parties, picnics, gymkhanas and romance with men outnumbering women by roughly four to one. But after the honeymoon, life often changed drastically in remote outposts. The stories of these women were recalled dramatically by Anne De Courcy from unpublished memoirs, letters and diaries rescued from attics, and vividly recreating a forgotten era.
This morning, after a fleeting visit to Rolf Harris to see his latest animal paintings (He’s just finished a magnificent oil painting of a cheetah half in shadow. Superb.) I raced back to Henley to hear Gyles Brandreth at Christchurch. What a splendid raconteur! Easily the highlight of the Festival for me. He talked for 90 minutes, and the audience were in stitches all the time. I bought a couple of his books – both about how he turned Oscar Wilde into a detective.
Thursday evening signalled the launch of ‘The 100 Faces of Henley’ by Janet Hanton and Claire Smith at The Old Fire Station Gallery.
A year in preparation, they had selected 100 characters living in Henley, chosen from celebrities like Philip Schofield, Lady McAlpine, Paul Daniels, Antony Worral Thompson, Rodney Bewes, etc. to Henley characters like George Roberts – ‘The Axe Man’ and bewiskered Norman Topson, 'The Stationmaster'. My picture was a bit unusual in that I was holding a magnifying glass in front of my eye to signify that I paint miniatures, but the format meant that my specially painted shirt (showing brushes and tubes of paint) wasn’t included. I never like my own face in photographs, anyway. It was a good evening with all the photographs framed and displayed around the gallery. I was intrigued to count how many of the ‘celebrities’ pictured I’d painted over the years (10). The book that accompanied the exhibition was very well produced so I bought a couple of copies.