|EMB Warren - watercolour on paper|
I like to think I have a good eye.
This is literally true, because my right one is what opticians used to call 'lazy' or more correctly amblyopian. As a child, I had to wear a patch but it didn't improve the neural connections that are the cause of it seeing less clearly. The result is my left eye does all the hard work and being connected to the creative side of my brain perhaps explains my artistic bent—or so the theory goes.
In truth, it was only the corner of my vision that spied the painting on the mouldering stairwell of a bric-brac shop in Pontypool Dusting it off, I realised the small image was an original watercolour, and rather delicately done too; whoever had painted this, knew what they were about. The dealer wanted twelve pounds and I didn't have the heart to haggle.
Which would have been churlish, as it turns out the painting is by E M B Warren.
I'd seen the signature but didn't know the artist until I searched online. A graduate from the Royal College of Art, working at a time when women artists were badly discriminated against, she became a notable member of the Royal Society of British Artists, Royal Watercolour Society and Society of Women Artists. Moving to Canada in 1919 she continued travelling and painting, with works purchased by the National Gallery of Canada and a considerable collection at the Univerisity of Toronto.
It takes a good eye to paint as well as she did.
I wonder if there was an influence of John Ruskin, who famously wrote an essay arguing that drawing is really the art of seeing. It's surely no coincidence that she illustrated a book on his Homes and Haunts, written by E T Cook and still available in print. Ruskin is a hero of mine, the quintessential polymath; sadly, we have few of his like today.
The painting itself is small and perhaps worth a few hundred pounds now that it's reframed and we know its provenance. I wish, however, I could place the location of its subject. The lake and mountains look Alpine—perhaps Switzerland or Austria—but I guess they could be from North American too. There are hints of a small town which suggest a church spire, though it will no doubt have changed by today.
But regardless, it's beautiful and a little treasure on my wall, reminding me that few of us are lucky enough to leave such a tangible trace. How wonderful that something painted so long ago is still giving pleasure today. Quality and care have a part to play. When she made those brush strokes, Emily could never have known that decades later they'd turn up among heaps of junk in a South Wales emporium... catching the one good eye of a passing admirer.