Sunday, 7 October 2012

Of Flying Ducks...and one that didn't!

"Lady in the Lane"
Original watercolour
Glenn Marshall

I have always thought that artists are very brave - after all we bare our souls to the world , but artists are also very presumptuous - imagining that anyone would want to look in the first place!
I had just started as a 'professional' artist and was in my first year as artist in residence at Burton Agnes Hall. This was a brilliant engagement - I was given a flat free to live in for a whole month as well as unlimited access to the house and grounds and an opportunity to display and sell my work. The icing on the cake was seeing one of my paintings hanging with the very best of the post-impressionists in the Hall's famous collection.
I decided to do a painting 'plein air' and set up my easel  in front of a very imposing gateway. Now architectural subjects have never been my strong point but what I was interested in was the shadows of the trees on the ancient stonework - perfect subject for a new, keen painter. Nevertheless the structural details had to be tackled and I laboured away gamely for several hours. Throughout my travails I was visited at regular intervals by an older lady who made kind comments on my progress.
Finally I felt I had finished and was pleased with my efforts. In due course, up came my elderly supporter.
She said that I had done a good job but could she make just one observation:
"You see" she said "you see that statue on top of the gatepost. Can you see how it looks poised to take flight, how you can see the power in its wings and the nobility in its head..." I looked at the stone phoenix and nodded in agreement.."well yours looks like...a duck!" Feet back firmly on the ground.
Talking about ducks brings to mind a painting that I did also in my early days. I had executed a commission for a lady of a cottage she used to live in when she was a girl. Pear Tree Cottage was the oldest inhabited home on Danby Moor in North Yorkshire. It was a remote farm building and took some finding but when my wife and I eventually located it we were shocked. It had been completely modernised with dormer windows and a conservatory added - Deidre would have been horrified! However no problem for a painter.
I simply removed the modern features and painted it as it would have been. Deidre was delighted with the result and even her husband, who was not renowned for his exuberance, was enthusiastic and said it was just as he remembered it.
She was so pleased she gave me another commission for a good price. Deidre produced a sketch of an unfinished work and the deal was that I had to put myself into the shoes of the original artist and finish his painting (I did find out many years later that the artist was Walter Sickert but at this time I had never heard of him.). This wasn't as bad as it sounds because the composition was good and featured a couple dressed in elegant clothes riding a horse drawn carriage towards a fine chalet surrounded by mountains and reflecting in a lake. "But ", she added " I want you to put three flying ducks in the picture...and proper ducks mind you, not seagull squiggles".
Unfortunately this request triggered a mind picture that has stayed with me until this day. All I could see was Hilda Ogden's famous 'Muriel' of yes...three flying ducks! UK readers will be aware that Hilda was a character in a well known TV soap, but for the benefit of non UK readers I will explain that "Coronation Street" started probably around 1067 shortly after William the Conqueror landed, and has been going ever since.
Try as I might I could not get this fateful image out of my mind and after several attempts I presented my painting unsigned and as a gift, waiving the fee. She seemed to be pleased with it (maybe because she got a bargain!) and I have not painted ducks since!    


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