Sunday, 25 October 2015

A Sunday Ramble

Ever since seeing the Sickert in Dieppe exhibition in Chichester, I've been dipping into the accompanying book by its curator Katy Norris. It's a handsome volume, but better to look at than to read, the text being rather heavy on sociological-historical-political 'context' and critical jargon, and none too elegantly written. It is also, like so many books these days, peppered with solecisms and misprints. One that I've just come across is positively surreal:
 'As Robert Upstone has noted, Sickert's painting of fisher-girls in Venice seem to fit this template [don't ask]. Similar to his exploration of Costa girls in London, for Sickert these women exemplified an outmoded working-class existence that had survived in spite of the upheavals in urban living...'
Leaving aside the illiterate use of 'similar to', what, you may ask, are 'Costa girls'? Surely the coffee-house chain had made no inroads into London in Sickert's time? I stared at the phrase for some while before the penny dropped - of course: coster girls! As portrayed above in a painting by William Rothenstein.
 The young Rothenstein appears in person in Max Beerbohm's Enoch Soames, the first of the stories in Seven Men. The artist lands in Oxford from Paris like a meteorite, with a commission to draw 24 lithograph portraits: 'Dignified and doddering old men, who had never consented to sit to anyone, could not withstand this dynamic little stranger. He did not sue: he invited; he did not invite: he commanded. He was twenty-one years old. He wore spectacles that flashed more than any other pair ever seen. He was a wit. He was brimful of ideas. He knew Whistler. He knew Edmond de Goncourt. He knew everyone in Paris. He knew them all by heart. He was Paris in Oxford...' And among the subjects of his portraits is Max himself, who introduces Rothenstein to Enoch Soames,  an obscure poet with a burning, wholly unfounded conviction that posterity will judge him the greatest of his age.
 This conviction leads him to make a pact with the Devil, no less, that will grant him a visit to the Reading Room of the British Museum exactly 100 years hence, to examine the shelves and catalogues and determine the full extent of his posthumous fame. The date of his visit would be the 3rd of June, 1997, the time 2.10pm.
 In November 1997, the Atlantic Monthly published 'A Memory of the Nineteen-Nineties (Being a faithful account of the events of the designated day when the man who had disappeared was expected briefly to return)' - an article by the illusionist 'Teller', of Penn and Teller fame. It's a great read - follow the link...
 Which has taken us rather a long way from Costa girls and coster girls but, hey, it's Sunday. And tomorrow, DV, I'm off to Derbyshire for a few days.

1 comment:

  1. And one doesn't like task how one "explores" Costa Girls!