People in the News
By George Houghton
Illustrations by the Author
PABLO RUIZ PICASSO, most discussed painter of our time, reaches his seventy-sixth birthday as this issue goes to press. I have no news of abatement, either in his vigour, or controversial attitude towards art and the world in general. Now living in a villa near Cannes, he has made his base a crucible for perpetual disagreement and explosive artistry. Picasso boasts that more people hate his paintings than those of any artist, alive or dead. Yet, there are those who admire him to idolatry. No living painter commands such high prices.
A month after the Liberation of Paris, one or two Royal Air Force officers, based at Versailles, came into the French capital to seek out the "characters" who had been lost to us since the German Occupation. Ours was an unusual unit. At the headquarters there were LIONEL HEALD (later to become Sir Lionel, Attorney-General); FRANCIS KING, a master at Winchester; LOEL GUINNESS, and others . . . interested in the cultural side of things.
We ferreted out personalities. In a street off the Boul' Mich' we found RAYMOND DUNCAN, brother of the famous Isidora; unsuccessfully, we searched for GERTRUDE STEIN. Then, three of us went to the studio in the Rue des Grands-Augustins, where we were told Picasso had spent most of the Occupation, quietly painting, oblivious to war itself. We learnt that he was considered a non-militant member of the Resistance. In some inexplicable way he had avoided arrest. We were received cordially, as if he quite expected to be a showpiece. I recall that one of the first things he said was that his grandfather had been educated in England. This was news to us.
Although Picasso had spent at least three years in Paris, we had the impression of a man recently returned from a sunshine holiday. He looked sun bronzed and well. There was a lady there, a couple of small dogs, and a great deal of disorderly litter. We were served coffee, which in those days was a great treat.
The Picasso studio in the Rue des Grands-Augustins was more of a workshop. There were nick-hacks, a heap of modelling clay, carpentry, and the model of a bull's head, ingeniously fashioned from a bicycle saddle, handle-bars for horns, and two tennis balls for bulging eyes.
On leaving, the artist gave us postcard photographs of his large Guernica picture. We were told that these had been printed as souvenirs for German officers when they visited him! Once, when asked what he would do if the Nazis arrested him, he said: "If they stop me painting, I shall draw on toilet paper, or with spit on the walls of my cell."
Although Picasso was born in Malaga, he has spent most of his life in France. There is more chance of his friends in Valauris, in the Midi, remembering his birthday, than his ain folk in Southern Spain. His family were angered when the painter adopted "Picasso," his mother's name, letting the rather more commonplace "Ruiz" fade into oblivion. Like most Spaniards, Picasso has an extended full name: Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santisima Trinidad Ruiz Picasso. Yes - all that!
Almost as a birthday present, he learns that a small cubist picture he painted on a canvas no larger than a child's exercise book, has just sold for £1,750. . . .
In violent contrast, my pavement-artist friend JOE LEE earns thirty bob - that is, on a really good day, when the sun is shining and folk are generous.
Joe has practised his art for more than thirty years. He used to "pitch" at Hyde Park Corner, but you'll find him in Trafalgar Square nowadays, outside the National Gallery. Like all conscientious artists, he takes a pride in his work, and to put down good "patterns" you must have smooth York paving-stones to work on. There are but few left in the London streets these days. The best ones are by the Athenaeum club and on the top side of Trafalgar Square.
Joe Lee is a true Romany, and proud of his relationship with the famous GYPSY ROSE LEE. He claims to be the only artist in the tribe. A widely travelled man, he has the distinction of having "pitched" on the Paris boulevards, by special permission; and also in Amsterdam, near the Rembrandt statue.
Rembrandt is Joe's great hero, and the master's well-known works are usually the subjects you will see in Trafalgar Square. But, on one memorable occasion, Joe added a new subject to his gallery. At the beginning of a football season he drew a player scoring a goal, and underneath he lettered, "Bolton for the Cup." Each day he repeated the sketch, and as the cup-ties were played, the businessmen who passed Joe's pitch took and added interest in the pavement tip. By the time the Final was reached the regular patrons were showing considerable appreciation. The forecast was correct. In three days Joe's takings in pennies, sixpences, and shillings, amounted to £60.
Once in a while pavement artists have a windfall, as in the case of the chap whose regular pitch was near the Victoria and Albert Museum. One of his "regulars" died, leaving him £200.
Each pavement artist has his special approach. Joe's neighbour outside the National Gallery believes in pulling at the heart-stings. He exhibits the picture of a dog. There is a For Sale notice round the dog's neck, and the caption says "Blimey! No one loves me."
THERE are artists for whom London and England hath no charms. One is JOHN NAPPER, who has painted THE QUEEN, and also produced a most satisfying portrait of LADY CHURCHILL. John has fled to the Dordogne region of France. He is disheartened with life in England. Like many, he felt strongly about the Suez affair.
But it doesn't apply to STANLEY SPENCER, who is happy enough to live in Cookham - where he was born.
Stanley Spencer, almost as violent a centre of controversy as Picasso himself, was born sixty-six years ago, one of a family of eleven brothers and sisters. He is what the French call un numéro, a role which amuses him. He is a tiny chap, and like Phil May, Foujita, Bert Thomas, and some other artists, Stanley wears his hair with a forehead fringe, a style which enhances his youthful appearance.
Some time ago the streets of Cookham echoed to the constant sound of a motor horn. This came from the Spencer juggernaut, and one of the village sights was to see Stanley's car dashing about - without a driver. At least, that was how it seemed, for when the diminutive artist attempted to put his foot on the accelerator he simply vanished from view!
I asked Stanley Spencer if he is working hard. "Unfortunately no," he said. "It isn't that I go out much. In fact, my friends say I'm a spider, and only dart out of my web at Cookham when I want something, like more paints and canvas. But for some reason or other I can't work for more than a couple of hours a day. . . . "
"I think you have your studio overheated," said a model.
"Perhaps that's it," said Stanley, blinking and ruffling his mop of hair, more than ever like a schoolboy.
A MAN who likes working in the heat is ALBERT SCHWEITZER, Doctor of Medicine, Philosophy, Theology, and Music.
Eighty-three this month, he now returns to the Lambarene jungle to resume his work of healing in French Equatorial Africa. This has been a longer stay in Europe than usual.
From an American journalist who recently visited Lambarene, I have had a description of Schweitzer's astonishing home on the Equator.
At the end of the First World War, when Albert Schweitzer returned to the tropical hospital he had built with his own hands, he found it completely destroyed by white ants. The work was restarted. Now, there are fifty buildings, including an asylum. Before Schweitzer came, mad people in the Lambarene jungle were burnt or drowned.
The house in which Schweitzer lives is built on a knoll and is called "Adolinanongo," meaning "looking out over peoples." His most prized possession is a fine piano, a gift from the Paris Bach Society. It is lined with zinc as a protection against termites!
Lambarene is in the very heart of a humid swamp. Until Schweitzer settled there, no doctor lived within six hundred miles. The hospital settlement in on the fetid banks of the Ogowe River, rightly described as the worst climate in the world. Yet, Schweitzer leaves a pleasant house in Alsace to continue his great work. His fine hands turn again from manuscripts and piano keys. . . to resume the task of a healer.
HANDS of an artist; hands of a healer; strong, sensitive hands . . . They always tell a story. Of those hands I know - their study is my hobby - one of the finest pairs belongs to a professional sportsman. In this case, they are constantly on view and belong to JOE DAVIS, master of the games of billiards and snooker. Mr. Davis is busy - at the height of his professional season. It suits him to "work" in the winter and "have plenty of free time during nice summer days for golf and gardening." At fifty-six Joe has been for many years on the top rung of his particular ladder. He was undefeated Snooker Champion for a quarter of a century; he has scored a billiards break of more than 2,000 . . . Yet, I learn to my surprise, that this perfectionist still practises for hours every day!
I asked Joe to name his most memorable game. Without hesitation he recalled the match with Tom Newman, whom he beat for the Billiards Championship in 1928. A less pleasant memory was what Joe calls his "tragic experience." A favourite cue, originally bought for 7s. 6d., was stolen on the eve of an important match!
- o- 0 - 0 -
My husband and I have very different interests.
He loves jazz, which I don't care for, but I love my husband,
so we compromise.
Can a person catch cold by kissing? someone asks. Yes,
and it's a most delightful way.