Welcome to a blog in which you will find examples of my work in two areas and comments on whatever topics come to mind.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Card

Oil on art paper 7.5 x 9.5in

I watch Dickens's 'Christmas Carol' with Alistair Sims almost every Christmas. It's become part of the ritual, along with the tree and the turkey -- although, in South West France, where I live, there is a tempting alternative to the traditional turkey: a magret de canard -- i.e. a sort of duck steak. Of course the film drips with sentiment, but the acting is superb, the black and white has a specially potent dramatic atmosphere, and when Scrooge flings open his bedroom window after his nightmares, and learns that it is Christmas Day and he is not too late to do some good in the world, and he capers for joy . . . well, I admit to having, at that moment, a lump in my throat and a slightly moist eye.
This was painted for Alice Thompson's Calypso Moon Artist Movement: artistalicethompson@live.com

Sunday, December 5, 2010


This letter, having wafted in my way during the recent windy weather, I print here, in hope that exposing it to public view may lead to its being claimed by the sender and redirected:

The Atheneum
Baffin Island June 31, 2012


From earliest infancy it was borne in upon me by my elders and betters that I must avoid giving offence to others; how a careless word or unintentionally snide remark, or the wilful continuance of a questionable custom, could effect this. I was therefore not surprised when I read the other day that all dogs -- even small pugs and poodles -- were to be shipped to an obscure country of continental Europe. On precisely these grounds the Bill to ban pork,
currently being debated in the House, has my approval; even the clauses relating to roast pork, together with censorship of Charles Lamb's celebrated essay on the subject -- recounting this delicacy's chance discovery in medieval China and Ho-ti's regularly setting alight his piggery in order to partake. Thank goodness most banks have already removed piggy banks from their savings account counters.

The sensitivity to possibilities of offence now generally shown is surely to be applauded. We hear that the mayor of a great city has enjoined that when fasting is the requirement for some, others, indeed all, should likewise fast, in order not to give offence. I understand that church bells are no longer to ring, even at Christmas and New Year's, as being offensively clamorous to sensitive ears. It has been argued (meretriciously, I submit) that liberty consists in being able to tell others what they do not wish to hear; yet personally, I am relieved whenever I learn that certain public speakers, the content of whose intended discourse was deemed likely to give offence, have been turned away or denied a venue. Equally so, at developments in the education of children; I mean the curricular toppling of bygone national heroes and heroines from their pedestals, along with their feet of clay being bared and scrupulously dwelt upon to the last baby toe-nail.

I do wonder at finding nothing as yet said or written about Art; surely an egregious omission from public discourse. Human figures in landscape paintings, all portraits, and certainly Greek and Roman statues, brazenly unclad, are likely to cause offence. Let us hope that in the near future measures are taken to, if not destroy, then at least banish, such works to less enlightened lands; and close the galleries and museums which contained them.

But all these other positive developments, which I have mentioned -- taking place gradually and without being much noticed by the population, like the movement of the small hand of a clock -- are welcome; and for those responsible for having given offence to feel offended at no longer being allowed to do so would be manifestly unjust, and perhaps even racist.

Yours truly,

W. C. Struldbrug

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Try Again Later

Oil on Canvas Sheet 12 x 9 1/2in (30 x 25cm)

There is a wonderful wide boardwalk or esplanade overlooking the St Lawrence in front of the Chateau Frontenac Hotel in Quebec City, on which to enjoy a summer evening stroll. This small person would like to have taken a look through the viewer at the passing ship. Her parents had walked on a little and were listening to the man who sits playing  his transportable piano. I've submitted this painting to the Calypso Moon Artist Movement challenge.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


                                             Oil on canvas board, 7 x 9 1/2in (18 x 24cm)

This young woman had arranged herself demurely on a bench in Paris, but she was not at ease.  I'm no expert on body language but I thought she looked nervous.  I didn't get a good look at her face as I passed.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Alison Hughes, the central character of this love story set in Britain and France between 1916 and 1918, gaily and thankfully leaves her Canadian prairie town for England and the ‘great adventure’ of the First World War; having been recruited by the officious and irresponsible Aunt Madge to ‘do her bit’ to help the Mother Country. In the exhilerating atmosphere of the London of thès dansants, Campagne-done-up-as lemonade, and Zeppelin raids, she becomes the protégée of her older flat-mate, the beguiling, jealous and unscrupulous Lenore Trevelyan, who points out what fun war can be on the home front and what opportunities it offers young women like themselves.  Lenore, a quasi-Suffragette, secretly plots with her cynical friend, Clive Wimbush, the loss of what she views as Alison’s antique and deplorable colonial innocence. Ulnderstanding of the implications of Lenore’s dictum of ‘entertaining the troops,’ and shock following forced proximity to the War, spark reflection and self-scrutiny: prompting Alison to train as a V.A.D. and undertake duties in a military hospital in France. She also comes to realise that Gavin Piers, of the Royal Flying Clorps, is not to be taken for granted simply because he is the childhood friend from the old home town.
Boulogne, the frenzied nerve centre and point of departure for Allied troops bound for the Front, is the setting for Alison’s ordeal of love and anguish in the second half of the novel.
Her passage from innocence to experience spans war’s brutal mix of glamour and excitement with suffering and death; and mirrors, to an extent, her nation’s baptism of fire.

  Available from Trafford Publishing, orders@trafford.com; or from Amazon, $19.69; or from the author.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Après Vuillard -- encore
Oil on Board, 40 x 22cm (14 x 8 3/4in)

P.S.  I've just been dining with my wife, at home on a rainy evening, and she has just looked at my blog. 'You stuck that there without saying anything about it? Just like that?' -- I count her an expert on blog etiquette, but I tried over the second glass of Côte de Bourg to defend myself.  'I painted that some years back,' I said, 'and really I had nothing to say about it.  And besides, I"d talked about Vuillard in my last.'  'It's egotistical, and impolite; you'll lose all your few followers. If you don't want to say anything about the painting (which I've alwasys loved; and I want to put it in the guest room) change the subject,' she drove on, quite fired up. ' Talk about other things -- anything; you're supposed to be a writer.' 'Well, but I've been painting walls and fixing things and getting the garden in shape, summer is a busy time. And besides I've been proccupied with what's going on in the wider world.'  'Ah,' she said with something approaching a snort, 'your fixation on Islam! Well, don't talk about that.'

And yet, why not?

This 'Freedom Flotilla' incident has had me fuming -- fuming at the skewed reporting in British newspapers and the BBC; interviews with the aid activists under captions like: 'We were unarmed,' etc. In the Washington Post I found the full Israeli account (04/06/2010). According to this, four hours were spent trying to persuade the ship to turn from Gaza, met by shouts of 'Go back to Auschwitz!' The Israelis did not expect an attack from humanitarian aid activists, but rather to see them chaining themselves to protect the engine room. They were set upon  by 30-40 men. Seven soldiers were wounded, two critically, with gunshot wounds; 3 were captured and their pistols taken. Two escaped by jumping into the sea. Found on the ship were 100 metal rods, 200 knives, 50 wooden clubs, 150 military vests, steel and concrete building supplies. Many of the attackers had 10,000€ on them, raising a suspicion of their being mercenaries.

Is this version credible? -- I think it is.  Question:  If the Israeli soldiers were the ones bent on attacking, how is it their take-overs of the other ships in the Flotilla went peacefully?

In truth, like a lot of others, I've been proccupied for a long time by the Islamist threat to our way of life in the West. (How much painting could we do, with an Imam watching over us?) And my reading reflects my worry. Try, for starters, Melanie Phillips's Londonistan and The World Turned Upside Down, and maybe Irshad Manji's The Trouble with Islam -- if you haven't read them.

But enough of this.  I'll get off my hobby horse. A copy of Oriana Fallaci's The Rage and the Pride arrived today from Amazon and I want to go to bed and start it.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

April and May in Portugal

Just returned from two weeks in Portugal, a small country full of good things to see and do. Landing in the northern city of Porto on Ryanair -- ‘The airline that’s the cheapest in Europe and always on time’ (except when a volcano erupts), we hired a car and made our way down to the Algarve in easy stages; the Algarve being the southernmost region, the most favoured by ex-pats and tourists, but, we found, not at all congested in April and early May. A change of scene is always refreshing. What struck me most was the luxuriant and near-tropical vegetation, the variety of palm trees, fields of wildflowers, gardens dripping with vividly coloured exotic plants. Unlike some southern European countries, Portugal is generally very clean (the beaches impeccably so). On our last day’s driving we encountered hundreds of people trudging along at the sides of major highways, pilgrims bound for Fatima; an annual undertaking,  dangerous and often fatal, we were told. We spent most of our time in a quinta or villa b&b near Lagos. We were lucky with the weather, except in Marvao, a medieval village perched on a rocky promontory above the clouds, where it might have been January.
   Here is a photo of Praia da Rocha, Algarve, where there is a typically dramatic contrast between sand and high outcroppings of ochre limestone rocks:


Saturday, April 24, 2010

'The world forgetting . . . '

                                      Oil on Canvas 7 x 4 3/4 in (18 x 12 cm)

   Alas, our unweeded garden, suddenly sprouting out in every undesirable direction, various appointments, and preparatiions for a two-week stay in Portugal, have interrupted my painting and my blogging.
   This little work was done after revisiting my book of Vuillard -- the 'intimist' painter par excellence; the portraitist of a private and nevertheless intense life, in which moments of domestic rituel, like the 'moments bien heureux' of Proust, transcend the course of time and are transfigured by the poetic memory.

Friday, April 2, 2010



Oil on Canvas Board 14 x 10 1/2in (35 x 27cm)

‘On the islands there are fairy-goddesses who hold seamen captive in the toils of love; among them, the goddess Circe who, when about to yield herself to the men who desire her, strikes them with her wand and changes them into lions, wolves, or other animals. . . . Other goddesses, such as the nymph Calypso, dwell in the islands of the sea. Thrown on to the shore near her grotto, Odysseus falls in love with her as a sailor in the Southern Ocean might with a fair Polynesian. But he more quickly wearies of his conquest than the nymph herself who for seven years keeps in her bed every night the audacious mortal she loves and whom shipwreck has deprived of the means of leaving her. But every day Odysseus goes to sit upon a rock on the shore and gaze for hours over the ocean-wastes that separate him from his homeland, from his wife and son and the domain of vineyards and ollive-groves. In the end Calypso is commanded by Zeus to let him go. She gives him an axe, a hammer and nails, and with these, not without fear, he builds a simple raft on which to brave the boundless sea.’
-- André Bonnard, Greek Civilization from the Iliad to the Parthenon, 1958, pp.64-65.

Seine Night Scene Again


A night sky is no picnic, so to speak. Difficult. One can’t just take the tube of black and squirt. It was too busy before, a lot of fireworks exploding,but now perhaps it looks like a snow storm impending. Must give more thought to night skies. I think it’s marginally better, however.

I’ve been without fixed phone and Internet for the last three weeks, thanks to a power surge zonking my Freebox. Quite relaxing – amazing how much free time is suddenly available.  But I’m glad to be back all the same.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Night on the Seine

Oil on Canvas Board 24 x 18cm (7 x 9 1/2in)

I think I still have work to do on this one.  It's my first night scene for some time.

Musings on Blog Comments and Followers

I like comments on my paintings; they are always positive and encouraging. And I like having followers, of course. I comment back, in a positive and encouraging vein, and I in turn become a follower. I think enough of my work to believe the person commenting to have been sincere. The work I see of others is to a surprising degree of a high standard, so it has so far been easy for me to be sincere in offering positive comments.

Nevertheless, I have some slight misgivings about what seems to be the prevailing art blog climate of positive and encouraging comments. These arise chiefly from questions I have about my own paintings, such as: are my subjects of any interest or relevance to people? Should I become more exacting, more enamoured of realism, than I already am (and use nothing but Nr 1 brushes!)? Are my colours harmonious, or should they be, if they are? I like composition that is slightly askew, but does anybody else?etc.  Maybe messaging has its limitations, and even a line or two of serious, perhaps sometimes negative criticism, or alternative suggestion-offering, runs too high a risk of giving offence to no purpose. But I’m not sure. I really would like to see others’ views on this.

I’m uneasily reminded of the philosopher, Karl Popper, who saw negative criticism as having a positive effect – and as being essential for progress in a civilization as in the individual:  ‘For all of us, in all our activities, the notions that we can do better only by finding out what can be improved and then improving it; and therefore that shortcomings are to be actively sought out, not concealed, or passed over; and that critical comment from others, far from being resented, is an invaluable aid to be insisted on and welcomed, are liberating to a remarkable degree’ [Bryan Magee, Philosophy and the Real World, an Introduction to Karl Popper, Open Court, p.37].
Ironically, Popper himself was, I’m told, easily irritated by any negative criticism. Maybe it would require a revolution in the individual and society before such criticism would be actively sought, let alone welcomed.

So, alongside Popper we recall the forthright Alceste, protagonist of Molière’s Le Misanthrope, sincerely not praising poor Oronte’s wretched sonnet – and making no friend in the process!

Friday, March 19, 2010

‘The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.’


Oil on Canvas, 40 x 30cm (15 1/2 x 11 3/4in)

I’m indebted to Michelle Burnett’s Following the Masters challenge for the month of March, the subject for which is the Renaissance, for this fantasy attempt to combine Uccello’s hunting scene with part of Botticelli’s evocation of spring -- and to include a modern onlooker, the young woman in the blue-green blouse and scarlet skirt, who is unsure whether what she sees or thinks she sees is real or imaginary.

I took my title from the novelist I.P.Hartley.

Friday, March 5, 2010

After Uccello's St George and the Dragon

Oil on Canvas 40 x 30cm (15 1/2 x 11 3/4in)

In beginning this painting I had in mind the small egg tempera and walnut oil work of Paolo Uccello known as St George and the Dragon, in the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris.  Uccello's work is a marvel of simply disposed and powerful imagery.  Three figures -- maiden, dragon, knight -- take up the foreground in narrative sequence.  The lady first; she has/had a problem. The dragon, her problem, comes next. And then the solution: the knight on his white charger.  But there's a double layer to the positioning and timing: the dragon has been struck by the knight's lance; and -- returning to the maiden -- we see that she is already preparing to give grateful thanks.  It's the old jaded story:  damsel in distress, the Perils of Pauline, the plot of endless t.v. and film dramas of today. Yet the narrative complexity engages us.  And there's more: stretching into the distance on the other side of the dragon's cave cultivated fields are laid out in orderly, geometric fashion, signifying fruitfulness; they lead on to a white castellated fortress, the home awaiting George and his lady.

The fantastic ballet of spears, horses and knights in Uccello's three paintings of The Battle of San Romano and his eerie hunting scenes, were appreciated in his day, then forgotten; to be rediscovered in the 20th centruy by Cubists and Surrealists.

In omitting the dragon's cave and background landscape, and deploying odds and ends meant to suggest other works of the Renaissance, I've chosen to emphasize the fantastic side of Uccello, while sacrificing the purity and stylized simplicity of the original.

This is my  submission to Michelle Burnett's Following the Masters challenge for March.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


Oil on Canvas Sheet  9.5 x 12in (24 x 30cm)

These two old friends have been in my family for a long time. You might take them for representing Beauty and Utility.  But in fact, no one has ever known what to put in the red lacquered box, and, while inviting something exotic -- old maps, forgotten wills, love letters -- it remains empty. The blue of the vase is indeed exquisite (not of course done justice to in my painting).  The vase has lived dangerously since the 18th century, perched precariously on its elaborately carved stand. Both objects have, for me, what certain South Sea islanders call 'baraka' -- a power instilled by years of human handling and affection.
This was my submission to Alice Thompson's Calypso Moon Artist Movement challenge for March 2010.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hommage à Chardin

Oil on Canvas 18 x 24cm (9 x 10in)

This is my attempt to approach Chardin’s Jatte de prunes, une pêche et un pot d’eau, c.1728. 45 X 56.8cm; Washington, the Phillips Collection.


I’ve been poring over an old issue of the Connaissance des Arts devoted to an exhibition of the work of Charles Siméon Chardin, 1699 – 1779, held at the Grand Palais, Paris, in 1999. I knew that he was considered marginal by the Rococo standards of his day; that he flouted the codes of the Académie by painting in earth tones still lifes featuring household objects not thought worthy of attention, servants caught in moments of reverie while washing clothes or peeling an onion, simple arrested gestures in the lives of women, girls and children; in preference to idyllic landscapes with numphs and shepherds or huge canvases of literary or historical subjects, or elegant scenes of court life. But I did not know – and was glad to discover – that he was largely self-educated; that he showed little promise to begin with; that he was poor at drawing; that he was always a slow worker. 

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Oil on Canvas 18 x 15in (46 x 38cm)

The lady cogitates, wonders whether to apply a touch more white lead, noticing herself older today than she was yesterday morning, before the ball..
Why paint the past? -- In this case merely because an old print of an 18th century pencil sketch of table and lady came to hand and I started on the drapery, thinking it would be a good exercise in dealing in colour with the folds, highlights and shadows, and of course texture, rendered in the drawing.  Once started, I felt obliged to provide a setting; and this became in the end quite elaborate.  Other than that, though, I could equally turn the question:  Why not paint the past -- at least occasionally?. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Half Jug with Two and a Half Oranges


Oil on Painting Paper 9.5 x 12in

This is my entry for the new Rookie Painter blog challenge.  I send best wishes for success and long life to the new enterprise.  .

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow in Paris

Oil on Canvas 30 x 4Ocm (12 x 16in)

Snow is much in the news this week -- Washington up to its waist in it; much of the U.K. ditto.  Well, it snows in Paris too, but not as much.  This exercise in 'Snow Pointilisme' came partly from a false memory syndrome:   I thought I recalled the great Impressionists -- Monet, Sisley especially -- having painted snow when it was falling; but I was wrong.  They wisely waited till the snow was on the ground (cf. Sisley's 'Road at Louveciennes,' and Monet's 'La Pie,' that wonderfully lit snowed-in gate with the magpie perched on it).  No, it's not easy and quite time consuming making all these snowflakes, and all equidistant from each other!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Oil on Canvas Board 18 x 24cm (7 x 9 1/2in)

   A summer day on the Champs de l’Elysée, belonging to a young woman who strides in the prime of health and beauty, 'assured of certain certainties' -- one of these being that she has the world at her feet.

Monday, February 1, 2010



  Turkey is or was a great place to start a bicycle trip, as I found a few years back, when I started with a girl friend (subsequently my wife) from Izmir (ancient Smyrna) down the gorgeous Anatolian coast.  A couple of cyclists was a novel sight for the inhabitants. Cruise ships, yes; solitary cyclists no.  The classical sites, the scenery, the friendly people -- all made for an unforgettable trip.
  Intrigued by the stories, half legendary, half authentic, of Croesus -- the alledgedly fabulously rich king of what is now south-west Turkey -- I wrote the noveL.

  Here is a resumé:

 While touring the classical sites of south-western Turkey during the early 1980s the beautiful American wife of a rich dealer in Middle Eastern artifacts finds herself mysteriously stranded in Ephesus, and obliged to seek help from a Scottish archaeologist who faces the even more puzzling – and graver – problem of having just killed in self-defence an unknown assailant.  Subsequent events assume a disquieting resemblance to those in a tale, half history, half myth, concerning a beautiful and murderous queen, her lover, and the fate of Croesus, last king of the region.
Order from Trafford Publishing, http://www.trafford.com/Bookstore/BookSearchResults.aspx?Search=osler.  $13.99. Or from the author.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hommage to Robert Henri

Oil on Canvas Board 18 x 24cm (7 x 9 1/2in)

This is a variant of a Paris street scene by Robert Henri. I find it more difficult copying an impressionist work than a realist one. An obviously rapid brush stroke in the original can be executed with equal rapidity – but not necessarily with anything like such a fortuitous result!  I like adding figures, preferably women, frequently with their backs turned. (The viewer is to run ahead in imagination, to see if they are really beautiful.)
This was my submission for the month of February for Following the Masters of Michelle Burnett..
From the first letter in Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit I am reminded that: 1) you start with something you want to say about the subject, having defined for yourself what attracted you; 2) you retain this -- ‘preserve the moment of revelation’ -- working as much as possible from the memory of it; 3) you block in the larger masses first, and their relationship; 4) you fully comprehend the character of a feature before setting brush to canvas; 5) you work as quickly as possible, ‘there is no virtue in delay.’ Pondering these suggestions I find the idea of working from memory the most daunting.

Monday, January 25, 2010


My GP's pills having done me no good, and the common wisdom gleaned by my wife from local women pointing to the absolute necessity of seeking a 'healer,' I took my shingle-stricken self off to Mme M, who received me in a cabin at the bottom of her garden; a cabin windowless, containing wicker chairs, a carpet-covered plank bed, a desk supporting a lighted candle and an appointment book, and a stool on which I sat for half an hour or so while the lady gently stroked my painful right side -- face, neck, shoulder, arm -- descending to end at the wrist with a wringing of her hands, as though she were committing some substance to the earth.

I ought not to have let three weeks slip by before coming to her, she said; as the virus was now well established, more than one session with her would be needed, but she would certainly make me better. She does not charge; patients pay what they wish, or do not. She is not in it for the money, but is a sincere and dedicated worker. She is no quack, of that I'm convinced. If what she does is ineffectual she remains unaware of it. She exudes confidence; she believes unswervingly in her ability and in her mission of relieving pain. She boasts a loyal following in the region. Beginning by treating a nephew's third-degree burns, all traces of which vanished in two weeks, she claims, she has dealt with cases of shingles, burns, nervous ailments, over the last twenty years.

When she explained that her ability to heal had been passed on to her by her grandmother on her death bed, it flashed on me that she was a direct descendant of grandmothers and grand daughters, custodians of plant remedies and spells, passers on of secret knowledge, stretching back to the era of the witch mania; when many a harmless old woman was deemed to have entered into a pact with the devil and killed her neighbour's livestock or caused an outbreak of the King's Evil. Somehow, Mme M's progenitors had escaped; though many thousands of these poor 'sorcerers' were burned alive in towns and villages across Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

But I soon realized that this fanciful genealogy left something to be desired. When Mme M pressed and caressed a paper towel, then folded it and slipped it in an envelope which I was to put under my pillow for the night, I remembered Mesmer and the Magnetisers.

Born in 1734 in Swabia, FRANZ MESMER studied medecin in Vienna, before finding that he could cure merely by passing his hands downwards towards the feet of his patients. He formed the idea that a magnetic fluid pervaded the universe and could be used, charged by the will, as a cure-all. The laying on of hands was important; but objects -- paper, wood, glass -- could be rendered magnetic for his purpose. He set up shop in Paris and caused a furor. A royal commission of the Faculty of Medicin apppointed in 1784 and seconded  by another commission of the Académie des Sciences to investigate his claims concluded that imagination accounted for any and all favourable results. It was a singular case of mind over matter; and of how 'we are fearfully and wonderfully made.'

Lack of official approval did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of Mesmer (or reduce his by then enormous income), however; his fame spread thoughout nineteenth century France, his pupils and imitators established 'Societies of Hamony' for curing diseases by means of magnetism.

It is from Mesmer that Mme M may trace her more direct descent, I suppose. Along with half a dozen other 'healers,' their cabins dotted among the charmed vineyards of South West France.

'The wonderful influence of imagination in the cure of diseases is well known,' Charles Mackay drily remarks in beginning his essay, 'The Magnetisers', in Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.