Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Saturday, 11 October 2014
Here be monsters
I bought this Regency, ormolu, stylised dolphin sculpture last week, and I think it is going to turn out to be one of my more successful investments.
It was sitting amongst a load of mediocre brass candlesticks and my eye was immediately drawn to it as something special. It certainly looks Venetian, though it could be English or French in the Venetian style, and the price was irresistibly low.
There were probably three or four of these supporting a clock at some point, but someone just acquired one and liked it so much that they mounted it on a bit of ebony and left it at that. I wonder where the other two or three are. Dealers at auctions often get it wrong, but not as often as most ordinary buyers. He probably paid about £3 for it, and didn't recognise what he had.
The modelling on it is extremely good, as is the casting. It was modelled very individually - the right fin is completely different to the left one, for instance - and I bet that the other two or three were just as unique.
From medieval times to the end of the 18th century, these animals which were rarely seen close-up were stylised partly for aesthetic reasons, and partly because the sculptors were not too clear about what the creatures actually looked like.
People would come home from Africa or India, then describe what an elephant looked like to an artist, then the artist would pick up on the most obvious features from the verbal descriptions - resulting in some very bizarre depictions indeed.
There were probably not too many Venetians who caught more than a glimpse of a dolphin as it broached the waters around their boats, but even after the 19th century naturalists put us all right about their genuine anatomy, the artists clung on to the mythological creatures for as long as possible thereafter.
Then came the bloody photographers, and whether they meant to or not, they held scientific evidence in our faces until the creatures were killed off forever, except in the most vivd of imaginations.
The first photographers declared painting and drawing to be outmoded at best and dead at worst, and these days, everyone is a photographer.
There is a woman artist in Bath who specialises in thinly-painted street-scenes such as one of the landmark lanes here, recently washed with rain and brokenly reflecting bits of their immediate environment, and she sells all of them as soon as the paint has dried, as well as many limited edition prints at a lower price.
I am pretty sure she works from photographs, as her paintings look exactly like photographs - to the extent that I do not know why she bothers to transpose them into paint at all. She is very, very popular, but adds nothing to a visual composition which you could not get by pressing the button on your own camera.
I was talking to an elderly, retired army officer who was a governor of my art college years ago, and he was verbally admiring the skill of our Principal at the time, a man called Jim Hockey.
"Brilliant draughtsman, Jim Hockey," he said, "Draws like a photograph!"
You've got one day left if you want to buy this thing, or at least find out who I really am in the process of looking for it.