Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Witch hunts

I am in two (or more) minds as to whether or not to buy this handsome and well-executed oil portrait of Charles Dickens, seen through the window of the antique shop of a friend near here.

Sorry about the quality of the photo - taken, yet again, on a phone - and let me explain that the reddish flare in the right-hand corner is, in fact, my bloodstream. In an attempt to kill the flash on the camera, I placed my finger over the little bulb, and it was so bright that it shone right through it, using my blood as a red filter. At least it shows that I am still vaguely alive.

Being the 200th anniversary of the birth of Dickens, this portrait is very apposite for the celebrations, but I would only buy it if I thought I could turn a profit on it - does that make me a bad person? (Answer not required). It is quite small (image size about 7" x 5") and very well painted on thin wooden board. The frame looks to be original, and has the rotten tape coming away from the back, but the owner has re-fixed the board in clumsily using masking tape. It has no obvious signature, but looks to be painted around the same time as Dickens's old age or recent death. Could be younger, though. (Advice from professionals like Cro appreciated).

I am constantly and increasingly bemused and puzzled by this whole time-scale thing.

Dickens was born a Regency Georgian, but died a Victorian - the epitome of a Victorian, in fact.

My grand parents were proper Victorians (I have photos to prove it), and the first 2 years of my life were ruled by a different monarch. I have had the same queen watching over me for the last 60 years, so they say. I thought the Coronation was 1953? I was born in 51.

A friend of mine was walking through a graveyard when she spotted the tomb of a man who was born in the 18th century, but died in the 20th. How amazing. I suppose he was born around 1790 something and died around 1901, but to appear to span 2 centuries like that sort of puts it into perspective.

Yesterday, I bit the bullet and bought a facsimile copy of my hero's greatest opus - "Monumenta Brittanica" by John Aubrey (died late 17th c.) £90 from a charity shop - Yikes!

It includes notes and sketches from over 1000 ancient monuments all over Britain, and even some in northern France. Aubrey being Aubrey (the 'maggoty-headed' author of 'Brief Lives') the original manuscript (now in the Bodlean Library, Oxford) was all over the place, so - as with 'Brief Lives' - had to be collated and arranged into something readable, and this job was carried out by John Fowles, author of 'The French Lieutenant's Widow', in 1980.

There were only 595 copies of this book ever printed, so I will always get my money back, but in the meantime, I am poring over it, soaking up the atmosphere of 17th century Britain, and I have decided that this period of time appeals to me the most in my country's history.

In the 1600s, Britain was going through the fundamental changes that formed the bridge between late medieval times and the modern world. True science was being structured, and - for the first time - antiquaries like Aubrey were looking at places like Stonehenge without referring to 'The Devil', or other supernatural agencies.

This did not stop Aubrey from writing 'scientific' papers on the supernatural and the occult, and I am looking forward to reading those too. The English Civil War also occurred right in the middle of Aubrey's life, but in those days, wars simply took place in the middle of barren fields - unless you were unlucky enough to live in a garrison town. Bath - you will not be surprised to hear - was Royalist...

You have to remember that they were still burning witches when the Royal Society for the sciences was being formed, as well...


  1. I think this is a copy of a painting by Alexander Glasgow. Without looking at the back (always more telling than the front) I can't say if it's old or not, but as we are all well aware, there are some very clever people about.

    1. Clever indeed - I am now trying to decide whether or not if 2 16th/15th century candlesticks on offer are fakes. The painting may have to wait, but I'll look up Glasgow, thanks.

  2. Reading that last short paragraph - and being born on Hallowe'en - I feel it safer not to comment.

    As for the portrait of Dickens - love it for its own sake - have you got orange blood then?

  3. On reflection I would be wary. As it's the 200th anniversary of his birth, I wonder if a lot of these haven't been knocked-up for the occasion. I could, of course, be totally wrong!

    See www.kingsgalleries.com/portrait-of-mr-charles-dickens

    1. I think it is probably early 20th C., but I'll let you know. Thanks again.

    2. Yes - it seems to be a Glasgow copy, and the original sold for a lot in around 1990 something. I'll look deeper.

  4. The coronation was in 53 Tom, but I think because her father died in 52, her reign dates from then.