*Fuzzy Photos and Unreliable Tasting Notes
Above: In the very early '90s the original poster arrived at our house in a tube with a label, "RAOUL DUFY, Intérieur à la fenêtre ouverte,123 x 100 cm, EDITIONS HAZAN - PARIS"; after more than 30 years of being bleached by the sun, the poster is ready to be laid to rest.
Some time more than thirty years ago my dear wife, Shelley-ann (a.k.a. Shan), embarked with some apprehension on her first adult-only break after the birth of our daughter, Kate. She and my two sisters, Sue and Cath, headed off to Paris for wine and intellectual stimulation. Art appreciation was high on the list and Shan returned from her long weekend bubbling with enthusiasm ... and a poster.
Before I embark on how this enthusiasm has manifested itself in 2023, some filling in needs to take place.
Initially there was not much time for art beyond ensuring that our successive houses were tastefully hung with pictures, including that poster once it had been mounted. Two others shared the tube that returned from Paris, both by Van Gogh. One was of irises and was also framed and hung, while the other has remained in the tube to this day.
That poster is the 123 x 100 cm piece of reproduced gorgeousness depicted above and originally created by Raoul Dufy. It seems the original, painted in 1928 is substantially bigger at 220 x 165 cm. It's anyone's guess what it's worth now but appears to have been sold at some stage for around £3M.
The title of the original masterpiece leaves an interesting conundrum: which fenêtre ouverte does it refer to, the one on the right opening on to the city of Nice or the one on the left that has a view of the sea and a coastal village in the background. Perhaps we'll never know. In any event, this story is more about how Shan travelled from her initial purchase to her own slightly larger interpretation that now graces the only wall big enough in our humble abode to accommodate it.
Above: the main picture is of the poster in pride of place in our previous house in 2002; the two smaller photos, taken 6 years later, are displaying some sun damage.
Between the early 90s and approximately 4 years ago, Shan brought up a wonderful daughter, re-entered formal education, graduated as a counsellor and bolstered the lives of countless people facing challenges that were too much to bear on their own.
On the 21st of March 2019 my dear wife retired from counselling. The process had had to be orchestrated with her clients over a period of around 6 months and had now come to fruition.
Kate's wedding in May was imminent and a June trip to Hermanus in South Africa for her mother Judy's 90th birthday was approaching rapidly. So what did we do? Buggered off to Scotland in our motorhome "Campy" for a month. The wedding organisation was all but complete and we needed to fill the dead space in April.
By July it felt as if we'd been living in a whirlwind. I stayed in South Africa for a short while to visit friends in Hopefield in the Cape and then in Johannesburg. Shan returned home to a quiet house pondering what to do with the next episode in her life.
She recalled a coffee shop in Hermanus where she had seen the work of a local artist done only in white on brown paper. Never one to hang about, she sped off to Hobbycraft and bought a roll of brown paper, a black Sharpie, some white acrylic paint and some paint brushes. The result, prior to a little refinement, is depicted on the left.
That was never going to be enough and so she continued armed with an iPhone and Google: how do I do this? how do I do that? What techniques have noted artists used to do this that and the next thing?
Many iterations of this and her attention turned to Fauvism. She was beguiled by the colours and the abstract forms and set about rendering some of our photographic collection in this style. The bright coloured interpretations drew her in like a moth to a flame.
Shan's Fauvist escapades were prolific as she devoured suitable pictures from our travels. And yet her passion led her to press the pause button on this genre while she explored different techniques and methods.
Above: (top row) a couple of Shelley-ann Fauvist examples, Riquewihr in Alsace on the left and Richard Kershaw's vines in Grabouw in the Western Cape; (bottom row) progressing from painting people on an easel to parking the easel and looking for new ideas on the right ... some tapestries from another era in evidence.
Shan was prolific, experimenting with all kinds of things ... always on the lookout for subjects. Those interested in the chronological progression can catch up with how it has unfolded so far and can check out her Instagram personage. Or dig around in the controlled mayhem that is "our" front room. She just can't throw any thing away.
It seemed though that there was always something nagging at her creative bent. That sad looking Dufy depicted at the beginning of this take. She's always loved it since she clapped eyes on it in that Parisian poster place all those years ago. Shan was gripped by it but it had to be bigger and better than that 123 x 100 cm piece of paper that she brought proudly home from her trip.
Intérieur à la fenêtre ouverte d'après Shan
Clearly the picture brought out the wildebeest in my wife as she embraced her freehand copy of Dufy's work with a few interpretations of her own. Fauvism had to be at its heart and the colour needed be wild ... how else could one elevate the mouldy poster.
And it had to be big, bigger than the poster. And it had to have pride of place in our sitting space so could almost reach the size of Raoul's original masterpiece.
So off she went to her beloved Hobbycraft for canvas and gesso. Cut to size and laid on the largest flat surface in our house, the primer was applied liberally to the fabric and before long the first conundrum emerged: where would the canvas reside for the duration of the painting phase? Shan's original idea was to stick it to the wall in what was to become the gallery. But it was a heavy old thing and masking tape wasn't up to the beastliness that was going to be required of it. After a couple of attempts, only duck tape would do. Bugger it, if we had to re-plaster the wall we'd re-plaster the wall.
And then the whirling dervish entered her cavern. When she puts her heart into something, there aren't many as single-minded as my Shan. Progress was literally mercurial. Spurts of rapid progress intermingled with going back to change things that hadn't quite satisfied her expectations. Paintings over, bits added in where Raoul had contented himself with short cuts. The occasional friend and relative able to sneak into the den was spellbound.
And then it was finished to her satisfaction. Now it needed to be framed. I suggested a plain oak surround, which, mercifully, was adopted with alacrity. And then it was off to the framers in another town (Wantage, 10 miles away). That wasn't too difficult when the master piece was rolled up and the canvas was enthusiastically examined by the art shop owners while laid out on the floor of their premises. We all agreed quickly on the simple wooden frame and then it was sit and wait while the experts did their job.
Only it wasn't an entirely relaxed wait given that the finished article was never going to return from Wantage in our compact car and longterm rescuer of the Harrisons, Mike Durham, kindly agreed to fetch it in his 4x4. It only just fitted.
Above: Shan getting into her stride.
But goodness, was it worth it just to see the faces of friends and family who have pitched up to take a gander. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the odd tear, some of them my own.
I wish Raoul could see the resurrection that has occurred in our living space.
Above: I think she looks pleased with the result - deservedly so in my book.
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