I was never very good at school when it came to art, I made my art teacher laugh every time I produced a what I thought was a masterpiece, at break time I could hear the roars of laughter from the staff as my hard-work was handed around, the shame of it all, it wasn’t my fault that drawing a straight line or painting within the lines, having more felt tip ink on my hands and face than on the A4 sheet of drawing paper. But I was inspired to carry on and on and on and on, even though my felt tip covered face went to my house and the art teacher went home to change her underwear because of the constant laughter.
I don’t think I ever got a picture or a painting displayed on the classroom wall, my effort was hidden under the pile of newspapers that are used to protect the table from 22 kids paint brushes. Do you know even though I was 10 year old, couldn’t keep a straight painted line or colour between the lines there was one painting that kept me transfixed when as a class or a school I was in the hall, it was a print of a man all dressed up and with a great moustache, his eyes followed me around the room, he was there when I was in assembly singing hymns and of course couldn’t close his eyes during prays, he was there watching me eating my lunch at the long dinner room tables, watching down as we passed our plates down the length of the table eight skinny pupils on one side, eight on the other and at least 12 of these long tables and benches, he watched as all these children passed through.
He watched me in my pants and vest with my black plimsolls on walking on up turned benches, swinging on ropes, jumping over the horse and climbing up the wall bars. Who was this man in the painting, have you guessed yet? Here are a few other clues it was painted in 1624 and he looks like he had won the Netherlands lottery, if they had one in 1600’s well it Frans Hals Laughing Cavalier:-
In this exuberant half-length portrait, a young man poses, arm rakishly akimbo, against a plain grey background. The painting is inscribed with the date (1624) and the sitter’s age (26). The work is unique in Hals’s male portraiture for the rich colour that is largely imparted by the sitter’s flamboyant costume: a doublet embroidered with fanciful motifs in white, gold and red thread, with a gilded rapier pommel visible at the crook of his elbow.
This painting I think was the nearest thing I had to a male role model, I wanted to be this man, with his fine clothes and that wonderful up turned moustache and his rapier, the sword of his choice, the sword of a gentleman. This portrait hung as you may have guessed in the school hall of Barcroft St Junior School which like many great buildings which educated generation of children has been closed, sold off and turned into flats. When I first heard that the school had closed I immediately thought about the man that watched those generations of children pass through the hall of lunches, exercise and pray, even punishment when someone spoke or laughed during assembly. I still occasionally wonder who he was, was he a gentleman or a paid model for Hals to paint? We know that the model was 26 as it is marked on the painting. Neither the identity of the sitter nor the function of the portrait has yet been firmly established. The dazzling costume may offer some important clues, however. The motifs embroidered on the sitter’s doublet have been identified in emblem books of the time and were symbolic of the pleasures and pains of love; they include arrows, flaming cornucopia and lovers’ knots. As allusions to gallantry and courtship, they may indicate that the work was painted as a betrothal portrait , although no companion piece has been identified. It has also been suggested that the motifs (particularly the caduceus, the attribute of the Roman god Mercury) allude to an occupation in commerce and Pieter Biesboer has recently proposed that the sitter is Tieleman Roosterman, a wealthy Harlem textile merchant. But we may never know, but it will always hang in the hall Barcroft Junior School in my memory and maybe other.
Since leaving the walls of Barcroft St school I have become a little better at art, in fact I became a freelance photographer and have been lucky enough to sell a few bits but have enjoyed all the years of capturing a whole range of subjects, some great, some not so great and some down right terrible but I have enjoyed every second of it.
I have even tried my hand at painting which many have go in the bin including brushes, paints the lot but months later I have gone out and purchased all again and left dejected and empty but I am getting there, I won’t produce a masterpiece or even a unmasterpiece but I have done one thing I am pleased about is a Celtic Knot painting I did a few weeks ago, I practised so much and wishing I had a camera instead a brush in my hand!! but here it is my first full finished painting of a Celtic Knot….
More to come…..