do sometimes wonder if I should have been a better painter without
it – without my unearned income. It has been of course a
great advantage in life in so many ways, oh, yes, indeed, but
perhaps the prick of genuine need would have given my work more
– more what – urgency, assertion? I shall never know.
Certainly it has enabled me to build up, for the education and
pleasure of myself and others, a beautiful collection of books
filled with the works of the great painters – and as I bathed
successively in the mysterious mosaics of Cezanne, the dancing
colours of Derain, the voluptuous impastos of Soutine, I began
to apply in my own developing work some of the techniques and
precepts of these masters.
I exhibit frequently – but I must
say without success: here again, although I don’t need the
price of a picture to put fruit and wine on my table, I should
dearly love to see a work of mine – well, touch someone
and go home with them. At the opening of a recent group show by
the local Art Society (held as usual in the Rotarians’ hall
above our largest hotel) I was pleased to see from across the
room, while advising Mrs. Millhench on the colour principles of
Seurat, that my own small view of the town hall in the pointiliste
style (very sensitively framed in natural materials) was apparently
receiving constant attention. Whenever I glanced over, two or
three people were halted before it with attentive expressions.
Later I realised that it had been hung beside the door to the
only lavatory, and my imagined admirers were in fact a queue.
This month saw the annual exhibition in
the town hall, to which I sent several canvases in my current
style after the Fauves. The one accepted was a window study in
the manner of Matisse, being an oblique view of the market place
behind a seated figure – a not unsuccessful exercise in
planes of muted colour. A week before the exhibition’s closing
date I was thrilled to find in the mail a cheque for sixty pounds!
My scalp crawled with pleasure as I read “Please find enclosed
a cheque in respect of your painting entitled ‘Figure with
window’.” I was bought! A purchased artist! Had the
life I wanted begun at last? The light in the hall-way seemed
to brighten around my fingers holding this accompanying slip –
a formality to which I could now hope to become accustomed, like
those red adhesive dots on the frame, like a sweet soft bell that
signals the proper and happy transfer of a piece of work to a
room in somebody else’s life. Attached beneath the slip
was a letter in a precise but unfamiliar hand:
Holmwood House Hospital
Dear Mr Blakiston
I feel I should enclose with our payment
an explanation of the regrettable destruction of your (excellent)
painting “Figure with window”. This was wrought by
a Mr John Latham, a patient released from our care this morning.
There was, I gather, no time for intervention to preserve the
painting as he marched directly up to it, seized it from the wall
and, after totally destroying it by jumping repeatedly through
the canvas, left immediately.
I understand from conversation since Mr
Latham’s re-admission here that your (splendid) painting
reminded him strongly of an aunt, in Ipswich I think he said.
To look on the bright side if I may, Mr Blakiston, this singular
reaction may well be of great assistance to us here in further
unravelling this unhappy man’s difficulties.
I am, with apologies again,
(Dr) J.H. Stroke (Director)
Taken from ‘Roughly Speaking’
(1991), pages 68-69.