A few weeks ago, Lady Barton St Mary and I visited London, a large city in the south of England full of busy, aggressive people who are constantly angry about having no room to move and insist on paying twice as much for everything to maintain their misery.
In order to find some form of rural tranquillity, we visited The National Gallery, which is in front of a huge patio with a fountain and a concrete column with a statue of David Blaine standing on top of it in a funny hat. I think.
Now, until this point, I’d never been much of an art aficionado. I was good at drawing cartoons when I was at school, but never very good at any other form of art. My art teachers were always kind and complimented me on my latest caricature, but I could see in their eyes I was never going to grow up, hire a studio in an old warehouse, grow a wispy beard, wear a linen smock and a nose ring. Remember, this was the 1970s, when stereotyping was de rigueur.
Anyway, having decided to educate myself, I invested £4 in the audio tour of the best 30 pictures in the house. Lady Barton St Mary followed suit, even though she’s good at art (although she’s never rented a studio, grown a wispy beard or had a nose ring. Not sure about the linen smock).
Suddenly, due to some magical headphones, art became interesting, rather than loads of old paintings stuck on a wall. The history, the deft use of brush strokes, how these artists used techniques to relate light and shade – it all became clear to me. Of course, The National Gallery’s Greatest Hits was in chronological order, so the first few rooms of 16th and 17th century artwork was almost exclusively god bothering, but not at all boring, since biblical tales are all about death, destruction, sex, murder, slavery, sacrifice, torture and pain, like a Game of Thrones’ version of Harry Potter.
I saw some real masterpieces, things I’d seen in books or on the TV but never in real life: Constable, Turner, Van Gogh – all with explanations from the lady talking into my ear. It was thoroughly enjoyable.
By the time I reached number 30, I felt I was ready to offer my own guide to art. So here it is, my own observations of paintings that caught my eye. I’m sure you are all aware of the artists responsible for creating these masterpieces, so I don’t have to bother you by telling you.
This featured in the top 30, a picture of Jesus being carried by John the Baptist after his crucifixion to his resting place, a dramatic and powerful image. What intrigued me was Mary Magdalene, sitting to the left, texting on her mobile phone.
A very early poster for ‘Carry On Bishop’, with Joan Sims and Bernard Bresslaw. Unfortunately, this film was never released, due to the fact that the poster was painted in 1730 and cinemas and Kia Ora orange drink hadn’t been invented yet.
A portrait of the singer/songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan, around the time of his second album ‘I’m a Writer Not a Fighter’ (1973).
The artist has managed to capture a rarely seen side to Bill Bailey, the musical comedian, in reflective mood.
A recently found painting of Simon Pegg, seen here playing Ed Sheeran in the much anticipated biopic ‘Cool Hand Lute’.
Slightly blurry photo due to me being chased by the security guards, this figure rather alarmingly looks like my dad. If my dad had dressed up in finery and had worn a powdered wig. Which he wouldn’t have done, since it would have made him look like (quote) ‘a f***ing big Mary Anne…’
It’s nice to know that the picture that used to hang in my mum and dad’s house that we gave away to the charity shop ended up in The National Gallery. What a small world.
Amazingly, a week later, I found myself in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, where we viewed these beauties:
Illusionist and mind reader Derren Brown, in a very early publicity photo – don’t stare at this painting for too long, otherwise he will be able to tell what your pin number is.
A promotional poster for Brian May’s solo tour, long before badgers became a terrorist group and he a sympathiser. Amazingly, the instrument he is playing here is the same one used by Simon Pegg in the film ‘Cool Hand Lute’.
Finally, one of my favourites, inspired by Kate Winslet who starred in the film ‘Titanic’ as a posh lady who shoves a dirty oik off of her raft before he drowns her. Having promised to grow a wispy beard/wear a smock/have my nose pierced I am still unable to persuade Lady Barton St Mary to re-enact this scene. “Don’t be silly,” she says. Not for the last time.