Archives for the month of: October, 2013

CROMWELL

I have the feeling that I’m at his fur-covered shoulder: him, Thomas Cromwell. Henry VIII’s right-hand, and best executive officer. For the last two weeks I have been living in the pages of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winners, and the characters are real people to the reader. I’ve found a book of drawings by Hans Holbein – Drawings from Windsor Castle. Cromwell isn’t in here, but Thomas More is, and his father, son, daughter-in-law; Jane Seymour; Thomas Wyatt, Cromwell’s friend; William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton, and Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father, who likes to be called ‘Monseigneur’. And ‘A Lady, Unknown’, above whose head is lettered, ‘Anna Bollein Queen’. They’re exquisite drawings, beautifully rendered, intended for transferring onto board for commissioned portraits – you can see the pin-holes in the outlines where dust or chalk would have been pressed through. But the faces are alive: real people.

I go to the National Portrait Gallery, in search of Thomas Cromwell – and here he is, in a painting by Holbein, looking suspicious. Henry, too, massive, small eyes in a slab of face. Anne Boleyn, and a beautiful painting of Mary – ‘Bloody’ Mary. But the drawings in my book – (‘Awarded to Michael Munday for Good Work, June 1958’) – are more alive than the formal paintings, exquisite shading and modelling of faces, and rough but lively marks for the clothes.

There’s a drawing session at 6.30: artist Marc Woodhead and his assistants pass round paper and boards, now in the Stuart galleries, to about 40 of us – all ages, varying abilities, but all keen. The task: draw the people around you, in the context of the gallery. People drawing each other, watched by the dead from their frames. The more you look, the more alive they become…

 

Illustration of Cromwell after Holbein, and drawing in the NPG

Advertisements

owena's

It’s the heat of high summer on my neck, and buzzing, seething sounds. Snuffling, grunting, scratching sounds. Smells too. This pig is much bigger than I thought, and hairier – I think of pigs as pink and rubbery, not being a country person – and now, here I am, squeezing through the gate. The huge sow waddles up to me on her little dainty feet, eyes completely hidden by drooping ears. A bristly wetness on my bare leg, tickling, as she investigates the intruder. Not really interested, though, it’s so hot. She roots around in the weeds for a it, then retires into the shade of her sty, flops down. Carla has already eaten the cap off Emily’s tube of paint, and she’s got a bright green mouth now.

Owena has invited some friends down to her small-holding to draw the animals – she’s an artist herself. We regularly buy excellent meat from her, courtesy of her animals, and now I get to draw them first. So, after a brief talk about how to approach them, I take my sketchbook and decide, initially, which end of the pig to start with. Though they don’t stand still for you – pigs are constantly moving, shifting, flopping, turning.

We move into the rams’ field. We’ve been told not to run away from them – we have to sidle, really. What’s this not-running-away business? Aren’t they sheep with balls? Well, no. They walk purposefully towards you, four of them, in a line, as if they’re going to walk through/over you. We try to look calm and confident, and they walk right up and push you a little (but not actually butting).  But it’s too hot, and they go and stand under the shade of the thorn bushes. I draw them for a while (great horns!) then sidle away. Carefully. I’m in no hurry.