Aut Tace Aut Loquere Meliora Silentio

I was intending to write something quite different tonight, but somehow it didn’t happen – mainly because I was looking for a quotation in a book that I couldn’t find (the quotation, not the book) and I got distracted.  Perhaps another time.  But here is a useful piece of advice (to myself more than anyone else), from the seventeenth century Italian painter Salvator Rosa.  Rosa was featured in an exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery last year that I meant to see, but never quite got round to (so another thing that hasn’t happened), but this self-portrait can be seen as  part of the permanent collection at the National Gallery.  The motto he is holding up reads “Aut tace aut loquere meliora silentio” (Either be silent or say something better than silence).  If this principle were to be generally adopted, what a profound and blissful silence would descend on the blogosphere (and beyond). 

This look (the broad-brimmed hat, the hair, the white shirt, the long black coat or cloak) is a remarkably persistent one (the iconography, at the time, was that of the lover).  You wouldn’t be too surprised to see him walking around Covent Garden today.  Think, a little earlier, of the Dean of St. Paul’s, in his youth –

… Lord Byron, Keith Richards, Johnny Depp … erm … Russell Brand? (But I’m sure you can find pictures of those for yourself, if you want to).

Well, there.  I have said something, after a fashion.

The Violets Raise Their Heads Without Affright : March, by Helen Hunt Jackson

Time for Helen Hunt Jackson’s monthly forecast – she continues her classical theme from February.  As you will see, she mentions that, in March, “the violets raise their heads without affright”, and here are what I believe are violet crocuses doing something similar around the edges of the Little Bowden Rec..




Month which the warring ancients strangely styled
The month of war,–as if in their fierce ways
Were any month of peace!–in thy rough days
I find no war in Nature, though the wild
Winds clash and clang, and broken boughs are piled
At feet of writhing trees. The violets raise
Their heads without affright, without amaze,
And sleep through all the din, as sleeps a child.
And he who watches well may well discern
Sweet expectation in each living thing.
Like pregnant mother the sweet earth doth yearn;
In secret joy makes ready for the spring;
And hidden, sacred, in her breast doth bear
Annunciation lilies for the year.


Mars, God of War, also, of course, shares his name with the popular brand of confectionary that enables us to Work, Rest and Play.  Here is Mars (on the right of the picture), as depicted by Sandro Botticelli in a painting on show in the National Gallery in London.  He appears to be having a Rest, though whether he has previously been Working or Playing we do not know.  My guess would be Playing.



The Isle of the Dead, by Arnold Böcklin

Continuing with this cheery seasonal theme, here is the Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead.  This painting was originally commissioned by a young widow who “wanted something to dream by“.  It enjoyed an enormous vogue in reproduction, becoming, I suppose, the late nineteenth-century German equivalent of Tretchikoff’s Green Girl or Athena’s Tennis Girl.  The playwright Max Halbe commented “Between 1885 and 1900 no good middle-class household could be without reproductions of Bocklin’s paintings” and later the phenomenon was also noted by characters in novels by Nabokov set in Germany between the wars.

The painting attracted celebrity admirers too (from all shades of the political spectrum)  – both Freud and Lenin had reproductions on their walls and the original of this version (the third of five) was purloined by Adolf Hitler for his personal contemplation.

Isle of the Dead : Arnold Boklin


Whatever you think of this painting, I do find that, once seen, it does somehow worm its way into one’s head in the way that a song (however irritating) or a poem sometimes does. I begin to imagine a resemblance to it in the most unlikely places, for instance, the disused lavatories at Grace Road –

Grace Road lavatories

or even the approach to this house at the end of my street –

David Hockney 1960-1968 : a marriage of styles

On Friday this hamster managed to escape from his treadmill for the day and went up to Nottingham to take a squint at the new Nottingham Contemporary art gallery, and its opening exhibition David Hockney 1960-1968 : a marriage of styles.

The building itself gets more attractive the closer you get to it – from a distance a corrugated iron warehouse, close-to decorated with an intricate lace pattern (the gallery is in the old Lace Market district) – but it is an attractive space (dread word!) with four large airy exhibition rooms, a cinema and a cafe/bar on three different floors. I imagine that, if I lived in Nottingham, I’d be spending a fair amount of time there.

As far as the exhibition goes, writing about art isn’t really my forte, so I won’t make too much effort in that direction.  If you are at all interested in Hockney you will know the pictures already, even if you haven’t actually seen them all.  The earliest are, as Hockney said 

“Partly propaganda of something I felt hadn’t been propagandised … as a subject: homosexuality.”

though it is an oblique kind of propaganda, composed of hints, coded references and visual innuendoes.  Moving on and out to Los Angeles the artist and the paintings bloom into something overtly beautiful, though the obliqueness remains (we don’t see who it is who made the bigger splash, just the traces).  My favourite in the exhibition is The lawn sprinkler, which I could sit and look at for hours.

The early paintings don’t suggest to me that Hockney was having a great deal of fun at that point in his life, but this little film rather suggests the opposite.  It’s an extract from Ken Russell’s 1962 BBC documentary Pop Goes the Easel and features Hockney and various other young British artists twistin’ the night away.  Peter Blake looks rather like John Peel doing that funny little dance he used to do on Top of the Pops, Pauline Boty (who’s in there somewhere) has got the hang of it rather better.  Hockney himself seems to have invented slam dancing.   All of this ought to look quaint, but somehow doesn’t – in fact it’s hard not to feel a little envious.

Apart from inventing slam dancing, Hockney also – if you look closely at this picture – seems to have invented the i-pod (Leonardo, eat your heart out).

i-pods in Bedlam

Poppies stare death in the face (featuring Thomas Cooper Gotch and Philip Hollobone M.P.)

What, someone might  be asking, has happened to the Poppies this season?  (Poppies are Kettering Town F.C., the football club I support – they appeared in a couple of posts earlier in the year).

On the field, things are going well, thank you  – we are third in the table and are through to the second round of the F.A. Cup, with a high profile tie tomorrow at home against Leeds United.  I have obtained my tickets (at ruinous expense) and may report back if I get time (and I get back in one piece – though I don’t suppose it’ll be like that).

Off the field, however, things are looking bleak.  I won’t go into the whole sorry imbroglio in any depth here – for the latest developments, according to the Kettering Evening Telegraph,  try this, but the basic facts are these.  During a previous financial crisis, in the late seventies, the club had to sell the freehold of their ground  (which they’ve occupied since the beginning of the 20th century).  The new freeholder (a Mr. Pickering) allowed the club to continue using the ground on a thirty year lease. The lease is now coming to an end and Mr. Pickering wants his land back to build houses on.

Poppies go-ahead millionaire Chairman Imraan Ladak managed to broker some kind of deal with Asda to build a combined football ground and supermarket complex on the outskirts of town.  Kettering Borough Council, however, have refused planning permission, so the club (for the umpteenth time in my memory) are on the verge of extinction (or – worse – a merger with Corby).

The local MP, the noted expenses miser Philip Hollobone, having undistinguished himself a few days ago by asking the following question in Parliament  

“Rugby has Twickenham, football has Wembley, and now volleyball has Kettering. Would the Minister like to congratulate the English Volleyball Association on choosing Kettering for its national training and competition centre, which opened at the weekend?”

(Volleyball?) has now attempted to redeem himself by asking another question in the House about the Poppies’ new ground, and inviting the Minster for Sport to attend the Leeds Match (So that was the shady-looking individual queuing up for tickets last Saturday).

Obviously I have views on several of the ishoos raised by this matter, but I won’t bore you with those at this point.

This situation has prompted the folks who run the club’s fan forum to replace the usual bit-at-the-top (whatever the technical term is for that) with this –

(The KBC on the Reaper’s scythe refers to Kettering Borough Council).

This isn’t the first time that a Kettering artist has made a connection between a personification of death and Poppies.  One of the most striking paintings on display (usually) in Kettering’s Alfred East Art Gallery is this, by local artist T.C. Gotch (it’s called Death the Bride) –

Death the Bride

Wikipedia provides a decent summary of Gotch’s career T.C. Gotch.

The Alfred East Gallery is well worth a visit, if you happen to find yourself in Kettering for any reason (though, apart from the football and Wicksteed Park, I’m struggling to think of many reasons why you might do so).  It has only two smallish  rooms, one of which is used for temporary exhibitions, usually by local artists, so not much of the permanent collection is on display at any one time. They do, though, have forty-odd works by Gotch, a similar number by Kettering’s other best-known artist, the eponymous Alfred East, and bits and pieces by the likes of  Lowry, Hoyland, D.J. Watkins-Pitchford (the author “BB”), Wyndham Lewis, Charles Ricketts and a crayon drawing by Toulouse-Lautrec.

It also has a substantial collection of works by George Harrison (the “Kettering hairdresser-poet”).  “Wet evening in the Ouse Valley”  is a picture of his I particularly look forward to seeing on a future visit.

All Souls Part 2 – W-A Bouguereau

Day of ther DeadContinuing with this – some might think – slightly morbid theme, here – for your contemplation – is an image relating to All Souls, by the 19th century French academic painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau.  Bouguereau is a much-abused figure – partly because he greatly disliked the Impressionists and the feeling was mutual.  John Berger, I seem to remember, also had it in for him.  I don’t have the impression that he has ever quite been rehabilitated in that the way that his English equivalents have been – Lord Leighton perhaps? Waterhouse? – but whenever I see one of his paintings in a gallery I find myself drawn to it, for reasons I probably couldn’t adequately explain.  This, for instance, used to be on display in the entrance hall of the Birmingham City Art Gallery, but seemed to have vanished the last time I visited, much to my disappointment –


(This reproduction  doesn’t, unfortunately, quite convey the luminosity of the paint).

Luminosity of the paint?  What are you on about now? Do you mean it glows it the dark?  My littleun’s got one like that in her bedroom. – The Plain People of Leicestershire.

No, I don’t mean that.  I just meant that whatever it is that attracts me to this painting – and it isn’t, incidentally, the sentimentalised depiction of poverty – hasn’t quite survived the transition to the internet.

The Last of England : a new interpretation

Visiting Birmingham Art Gallery on Monday, mainly to view the Burne-Jones Perseus series, of which – I hope – more anon., I was very struck by a small detail in this painting – part of the permanent collection – by the forgotten crypto-Pre-Raphaelite Ford Madox Brown.

The last of England

The last of England


The detail that drew my attention – or, as Roland Barthes would have put it – the punctum – was the object that the  man in the front row is clutching.  It’s spherical, shiny, red and has a raised seam – it’s quite clearly a cricket ball.

These – I fancy – must be the Warne family, leaving England for Australia vowing eventual – if much-delayed – revenge on the mother country for their sad plight.

Dogs no longer playing poker in the Bell

Winding back a little, while I was waiting for the bus (the X7) to go to Northampton the other day, I sheltered from the rain in the entrance to a nearby pub (The Bell, for local readers), which has recently been refurbished after a change of management.

Whenever I’ve passed this pub (rather shamefully I’ve never been inside it) I’ve glanced through the window and noticed what might have been this –


or possibly this –


Now – whatever it was – it’s gone, along with all the other bric-a-brac (brasses, old adverts, amusing signs) and been replaced by bare brick walls and a blown-up photograph of what looks like a wine cellar (I’m guessing it’s Italian).  They’ve also put some decking out the back, so that you can sit and observe the nocturnal goings on on the Recreation Ground while necking your jam jar of Pinot Grigio.  

These posters (prints?) used to be a common feature of pubs and indicated, I suppose, that they were aiming a little lower than the type that had nineteenth-century style prints of foxes in hunting pinks having a few drinks with a couple of hounds.  I don’t think I realised that they were actually painted by an artist (or artists, in fact), but a little research reveals that the dogs playing poker are the work of Cassius Marcellus Coolidge (his high-minded name the result of Quaker abolitionist parentage) and their pool-playing brethrenthat of an imitator, Arthur Sarnoff.  They have websites devoted to them, Wikipedia entries – the lot.  Originals sell for huge sums.

I can’t pretend that I actually like these things – in fact I think they’re pretty horrible – but I can’t help wondering what the regulars  make of this sudden purging of their familiar furniture, the backdrop -no doubt – to many an evening of revelry?  And is the ersatz Mediterranean look really – in context – an improvement?