History is a funny old thing, decades seeping one into another, ‘historical periods’ more porous than borders. Our small house had more pictures than many, largely due to our grandmother, a young widow who brought up two children without benefits. Her one vice was beautiful things, and in the interwar years she haunted auction houses and bought what she could afford. As a result, during the late fifties and throughout the ‘swinging sixties’ and beyond, our walls were covered with Victorian pictures, which coloured my imagination as a child.
To either side of the kitchen door were these two beauties, pedagogic and slightly exotic.
In similar vein, this small water-painting
With its country church and the suggestion of a cross in cloud and sun, the beam of light shining upon a man deep in thought.
But my two favourites were these.
As a very young and simple boy, I assumed there were people still living like this. Rich people—the past merging seamlessly into my present. I didn’t see it then in such high-falutin terms, but imagined myself hiding under the table amidst their buckled shoes and swishing skirts, listening in, and after they’d gone seeing if they’d left any pudding. Later I gave them names: the butler was Mr Varney, the maid with the pudding Sarah. There was a Sir Rodney, a Mr Grove, Verity Sprim, Clara Brown, Lady Totter and little Ada in the red dress who seemed able to sense those looking from outside the picture.
And here, a girl earnestly feeds pigeons in the courtyard of a country house; seventeenth century perhaps. I named her Sarah Dove and spent hours imagining what lay behind the windows, the lane outside, the countryside beyond.
Pictures feed the imagination to varying degrees, some not at all: the inoffensive pastel swirls you see in some show homes or those houses where décor rules and pictures are unobtrusive adjuncts, else making 'a statement.,' They do little for a child, neither feeding the imagination or offering insights into the past.