The trifling peccadilloes of the travelling artist.


Of course painters are artists. Yes, I admit that they often lack many of the finer graces and are prone to put on airs. The worst for this are those who have just sold something and gold runs through their fingers like quicksilver.

Still they are artists, of a sort, and I hold that their art should be respected. Indeed I have done my bit to encourage painters, even descending to a practical level and actually working.

It happened like this. As with so much else I was younger then and perhaps less wise, or less cautious, than I am now. There is an inn a long day’s walk south of Port Naain called ‘Painting and Strong Ale.’ In the days of my youth the Landlady was perhaps more prone than most to airs and graces. Inn landladies in my experience tend to be practical to the point of pragmatism. Not for them the follies and whimsies of art, or romance, or mysticism.
This I feel is a good thing. Romance does not manage a decent cellar. Mysticism does not keep the ale clear and sweet. But when practicality descends to the level of offensively asking whether a poet has the wherewithal to pay for the wine that he is ordering, I feel it to be overdone.

Still I am not a man to let the unfortunate prejudices of a few blind me to the virtues of the many. And thus it was that I found myself at the ‘Painting and Strong Ale’ helping to hang an exhibition.’

Mistress Warbin, the landlady, had come to the conclusion that some painters, and all their patrons, had money. And if she could entice them to ride south to her inn, they might well be persuaded to part with some of this money, to her immediate advantage. This seems entirely fair and reasonable to me.

Thus and so, she set to work to gently cajole sundry more reputable artists into displaying their work in her inn.

I happened to be passing at the time, and enchanted by my wit, my versifying, my address, and, it must be admitted, the fact I was willing to work for board, lodging and a purely nominal amount of silver, she hired me to help display the exhibition.

She had in mind a large common-room which was currently having one wall repaired, so there was no shortage of light. Her hope was that the funds she raised through this project would pay for the new windows. Artists started to arrive, bringing their work. Indeed they flocked like a collection of rakes clustering around the young lady who appears to have taken more wine than prudence would warrant. Still we had no shortage of timbers fastened to the wall and set to with a will to hang pictures.

And that is where our troubles started. Apparently one couldn’t hang the work of artist ‘A’ next to the work of artist ‘B’ because their differing use of tones would cause their work to jar the eye of the patron.

Similarly artist ‘C’ thought that artist ‘D’ was a purveyor of old daubs and not worthy of hanging at all, and demanded instead that his work be hung next to the work of artist ‘E’. Given that artist ‘E’ hinted that hell would undoubtedly freeze over before he allowed his work to be displayed next to the work of artist ‘C’ this didn’t help our cause.

Half way through the first day I rather agreed with Mistress Warbin’s stable boy. He declared that perhaps if we hanged the artists rather than their paintings, things might go more easily.

Still in spite of our misgivings we struggled on. Eventually matters looked up somewhat when Lancet Foredeck arrived. His claim to be a painter rested on two or three small pictures that Mistress Warbin rather liked. If memory serves they featured babies looking remarkably twee surrounded by the young of various farmyard animals all in remarkably dainty settings. Again if memory serves most wore satin bows.

He fell into an argument with one Julatine Sypent, who painted pictures of picturesque cottages and pretty girls on swings. I have no problem with either but it seemed that each felt the other was somehow trespassing upon the other’s chosen subject.

This was all smoothed over by Mistress Warbin by the simple expedient of having Lancet Foredeck paint a new inn sign for her, whilst Julatine was set to apply some paint to the ceiling of the snug.

Now here Lancet was at a disadvantage in that Julatine was merely handed a large bucket of whitewash and a brush; but Lancet had to produce his own paint for the sign. The black for the words was not an issue, but the colour he finally mixed for the sign itself was not perhaps what he had first intended.

He had finished the sign when Julatine came out, looked at it, and asked what noxious secretion he had used to get the vile green colour. Incensed Lancet reached for his longest brush, dipped it in red and started to belabour his mocker who was forced to defend himself using fire irons.

This battle royal was eventually broken up by the landlady but not without harsh words and wild threats on both sides. The ferocious posturing of the combatants would make the blood run cold!

Finally at this point patrons started to arrive and the painters were suddenly on their best behaviour. Lancet sold two paintings. I remember him crowing about the price he had achieved. Apparently twice what Julatine got for one of his cottages?

Still, reflecting upon this past episode I do wonder whether Lancet might not have been better to stick to painting. In that medium he might have achieved the success that sadly eluded him in poetry. Still, his talent speaks for itself, few can claim to be ‘almost great’ in two such different art forms.

As always I shall merely mention that my own trifling work, Lambent Dreams, is available for a purely nominal sum from,

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