Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Friday, 5 September 2014
Ship on the Blotter
When staying in Dulwich last weekend, H.I. and me visited the Dulwich Picture Gallery on Sunday morning - the world's first dedicated Art Gallery, brick-built in 1811 and designed by Sir John Soane.
As we exited the special exhibition of Ben and Winifred Nicholson, I was the one collared by the lady with the clipboard, to spend five minutes finding out if there was any way the gallery could have improved my experience by - for instance - making the typeface of the notices in larger print. I fell into the 56-65 bracket, so she was putting words in my eyes.
When asked what had struck me the most about the show, I branched out of the special exhibition and mentioned this portrait of Princess Victoria aged four, by Stephen Poyntz Denning, which was inappropriate for her survey, but I had to give it a mention.
We went around a corner to find it at eye-level, and I burst out laughing immediately. How disrespectful.
I see a portrait of Queen Victoria every single day - right outside our window here - and I was amazed to see that she had always been that shape and had always worn black - long before the death of her beloved Albert. The only difference is that she made damn sure she covered her ankles ever since a boy made a comment about them as she alighted from a steam train during her one and only visit to the city of Bath.
Reverting back to the special exhibition, I had to tell the truth about what had impressed me the most about it, and it wasn't the Nicholson paintings - it was the collection of Alfred Wallis sea-scapes with ships. If they had asked H.I. she would have said Winifred over Ben, because - as she always says - Winifred's are so much better. Charming pictures of children in party hats, etc.
Ben had a correspondence with Alfred Wallis down in St Ives, and Alfred would regularly send batches of his latest paintings on cardboard for Ben's appraisal, then Ben would buy a handful and send the rest back.
There is a 1938 postcard in pencil which says which ones he had selected, and their price. They ranged between 1/6 and 2/6 (that's shillings and sixpences) and one batch totalled 13/6. Not bad, considering they fetch six figures each these days.
Last year, I saw an Alfred Wallis picture of a ship, painted on an irregularly-shaped bit of cardboard, and marked 'in the manner of' by the cautious auction house. It was lovely, and I rushed home to look the subject up on the net.
It seems there is/was a brilliant faker of Wallis, and his work saturates some quite important collections and even galleries. They are almost impossible to tell from the real thing.
I decided I would put a bid on this 'Wallis', just because I liked it, and because of the slim chance it could be genuine. I didn't put enough on though, and it sold for a mere £70 or so.
This now rankles me every time I think of it. I should have put on what it was worth to me, which was probably five times as much as it sold for. I wish I could say I live and learn, but this is obviously not the case.