Monday, 13 February 2012

Confessions of a Visual Illiterate II (or Why I Want to Be the Queen of England)

Look, I don't pretend for a moment that I would maintain as indefatigable and stolidly but politely unengaged a demeanour as the current occupant of the position manages, shaking hands with her three hundred and ninety seventh stranger for the day. In fact, I'm not even sure that I would actually be prepared to go through with every single one of the duties that come with the job - and I almost certainly wouldn't be up for many of those hats, (not that I don't like hats; it's quality control I'm after). The point is though that, despite these minor details, I do have to be made Queen of England soon, because I need this picture. As it belongs to the Queen of England, I suppose becoming Queen of England is the only way I can be sure of getting a look at it every day:

The reasons I need this picture - which was painted by the great George Stubbs in 1793 and is called William Anderson with Two Saddle Horses - are as follows:

1. I love it. I love the lonely silence of the landscape, the solitary figures of Mr Anderson and his horses, the almost dreamlike atmosphere that is created by the sight of the three of them moving through an otherwise empty universe.

2. I could spend forever puzzling about the expression on the face of the rider - is he a kind man or a tough one, is he friendly, hostile or slightly self-conscious at being given the painter's attention? I don't know. I find him entirely enigmatic, apart from one thing: it is absolutely clear that he is a master of the art of riding - he sits beautifully, he betrays no sign of tension as he rides along, the reins of one animal caught loosely in his left hand, along with his riding crop, his other hand holding the reins of the animal he is leading. His whole position is one of relaxed competence, which I admire greatly:

3. In the unlikely event that I were to lose interest in the rider, I would happily look at the horses forever. Stubbs has made them much easier to empathise with than he has made their master. Both have wonderfully expressive eyes, which meet the viewer's just as consciously as the rider's do. Both give the impression of having something sad and rather wise to say, but being poignantly aware that they will never be able to express it, and this is combined with a weary indulgence, like kindly mothers toward their children, a forgiveness for the indignities visited on them by man:

4. I like the slightly eery quality which is added to the scene by the empty saddle of the second horse, with the empty stirrups swinging beneath the girth bringing to mind - to mine, at least - the idea of a ghostly absent rider:
5. When I said I loved the peaceful, empty landscape, I forgot to mention that I love the sky above the landscape as well:
6.I also love the second horse's apparent weightlessness - Stubbs really did know horse anatomy, so presumably this is anatomically correct, but those hind legs floating above the ground, with the distant tranquil world in the background, adds some kind of extra magical element to the whole picture, for me at least:
7. All in all, I need to see this picture on a daily basis so that I can be soothed by its calm beauty. Perhaps, if she doesn't want to give up the job for the moment, the Queen might be prepared to lend it to me for the time being. I would look after it. I'd hang it in our bedroom so that I could wake up and look at it every morning. I know she has a lot of pictures so she'd probably barely miss it. I wonder then if we could work something out between us. I suppose, if she didn't make too much noise, or splash too much, I could, in exchange, sometimes let her use our pool.


  1. About 1995, the National Gallery of Art in Washington had a Vermeer exhibition, collecting about as many of Vermeer's paintings as was possible. As I recall, HRH lent a painting of somebody at a spinet. That was the first time I felt any envy of the perquisites of royalty.

    1. I know the one you mean - I saw it the other day in an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam called something like Vermeer's Women. She obviously can't stand it and is constantly lending it out, so I would write to her, if I were you, offering to take it off her hands.