Tuesday, December 09, 2014
Great Grandpa's painting
Bloggy friends may remember that last month (16 November) I wrote about the indenture binding my great-grandfather, James Smith, as an apprentice painter and decorator for 7 years. I reflected that all we have of him is his signature on this document and, inwardly, I marvelled how little of us remains when we die.
And then, in the middle of last night, I remembered this oil painting. Painted by him. And sent by us to auction when my mother moved in with us.
I've known the painting for most of my life. I assume that it was in my grandfather's house (the painter's son) but he died in 1950 and a few years later my grandmother moved to England with my aunt. She must have taken the picture with her. It ended up back in Edinburgh with my parents when my grandmother, who had dementia, went to live in Pakistan with my other aunt, who was a doctor there.
It's a competent amateur painting, but not terribly exciting. I always knew that it was painted by my grandfather's father but hadn't quite put him together in my head with the person in the indenture. I'd always vaguely imagined the painter outside with his easel on the hillside, maybe in his retirement. But actually, having studied the family tree, I now know that he died at 40 in 1893, the father of seven children. So where and how did he come to paint this, and how did he find the time? There was another painting by him (yes, also sent to auction) - a copy of The Laughing Cavalier. It wasn't wonderful - a bit more sinister-looking than the original. But on the other hand, Great-Grandpa couldn't exactly have copied it from Google Images. How on earth did he, a painter and decorator in Kirkcaldy, see this painting in the Wallace Collection in London? I don't think he can have done so. But did he have a book with illustrations? Did he also copy the landscape? Could they have been on biscuit tins or something?
At the time of the auction we were terribly busy. My mother had a large flat full of belongings to do something with and she was not a minimalist. I felt bad at the time not taking the paintings, but was aware that if I did, in a few decades or less our children would have them to deal with along with all of our possessions (and I am not a minimalist either). I was already taking quite a few family things: a chess table, a grandfather clock, a bureau, china and so on. So I hardened my heart and left the paintings to be taken away by the auction house. I imagine that someone bought them for the frames.
And then there's my other grandparents' brass coal box, also in Mum's flat. I nearly took that too, not because I liked it but because it reminded me so much of them. At the time I decided that it would be just more stuff to cause problems to the children when they need to clear our house. But I think of it in the middle of the night too, and wish I'd kept it; and then am glad I didn't.
Stuff. We have so much of it. How sentimental should we be about it? Do I regret not taking at least one of the paintings? Yes. And no.
Ah well. Too late now.