VIII – Paris and La Grisoliere

I had remade contact with my cousin Victor Coates. If Victor had business in London he stayed at the Ritz and occasionally treated me to lunch there. I was usually too overawed to be hungry. I also spent part of several Easter breaks at his flat in Paris. Alice his Alsatian housekeeper – smallish, roundish and grey – always greeted me on arrival with an omelette and a half bottle of Champagne. David the dachshund also greeted me enthusiastically. Dog memory for walks under the chestnut trees of Avenue Georges Mandel.

The Musée de l’Homme and the Musée d’Art Moderne were about ten minutes’ walk away so I had time to discover and absorb the great modern masters particularly the then less fashionable works of Switters, which were tiny delicate collages often including bus and metro tickets, also Vuillard’s interiors, Bonnard’s beautiful tender paintings and above all the cut outs of Henri Matisse. I remember finding Pollock and de Kooning rather overwhelming and noisy – Mondrian I also loved.

Victor by that time had been widowered. His friends were either highly sophisticated Parisians or equally so expats. I remember dinner party discussions about ‘Waiting For Godot’ and the then fashionable painter Bernard Buffet, whose work does not seem to have withstood the test of time. Yes I was very lucky and very privileged and did realise it at the time.

My first student summer I spent house sitting for Rudi and Ethel Kousbroek who were friends of Trix’s. They were both intellectuals and writers. Their flat was the converted, more or less, attic of an apartment building in Boulogne on the far side of the Bois. I had my trusty black bike with me. I seem to remember looking after cats. The space was large, hot and chaotic. Rudi owned the entire works of the Olympia Press, basically all the books banned in the British Isles, also the Marquis de Sade in English translation. He also had a fine collection of Marvel comics. It turned out to be a highly educational summer. Rudi made me promise that when I finally lost my virginity I would go to bed with him – a promise I kept several years later, though in fact it was not a particularly satisfactory experience for either of us.

Victor did not particularly approve of my sojourn chez Kousbroek so the next two summers I spent staying at his house in the Loire.

The deal was that I produced a decent number of good paintings or face banishment from Eden.

La Grisoliere was a substantial house on the banks of the Cher River near Amboise. It was a delightful Edwardian building in the Tudor Normandy style. It had a turret, a great hall and green ceramic dragons on the roof ridge. There was also a small very comfortable guest cottage and another for Monsieur and Madame Boucher who looked after everything including GoGo, a Great Dane, GoGo being short for Goliath. The gardens ran down to the river and there was a vegetable garden, a vineyard and runs for domestic rabbits across the main road.

Madame Boucher was a superb cook. She and Monsieur Boucher were small in stature but huge in every other way. As I was there alone in the guest cottage and looked after by the Boucher’s I learned most of what I know about cooking from Madame Boucher. Also by the end of the summer I was glowing with health which for me was unusual.

Victor sometimes, usually for Bastille Day, had house parties for his sophisticated Parisian friends. The parties were great fun, with far too much good wine and Madame Boucher’s excellent cooking. The Boucher’s were dover to Victor and I think became fond of me too.

Days were spent breakfast then paint, lunch then paint and or swim in the river then paint – supper and very tired ready for early bed. GoGo was my painting companion.

There was a beautiful pale limestone mill house reflected in its pond and surrounded by silver willows which I particularly liked. Sometimes I heard someone playing a violin very well, the sound carrying over the silvery mill pond water. I also painted my first garden paintings there as well as landscapes, apple trees and the vineyard.

The paintings can’t have been too bad as both Victor and his friends approved of them, so later did the Royal Academy.

GoGo had some kind of instinct for leading me to the best painting places. He was too big and strong for it to be the other way round, though he was a very gentle and well-tempered dog. He seemed to know what I should be doing.

PhilippaVIII – Paris and La Grisoliere

VII – Student Days

London in the nineteen sixties was a most exciting time to be a student, especially an art student though when you are young you take things for granted and need the later mirror of hindsight to fully appreciate what you have had.

I loved my attic room, the house on Carlton Hill, the Craig family, my bicycle ride to Kensington Church Street and the Byam Shaw. I loved the life room with the model’s platform and old fashioned anthracite stove and tall studio windows. Life drawing from the nude was mandatory and until you had acquired a degree of proficiency you were not allowed to use paint. We were allotted tutors and I was extraordinarily lucky to be under Bernard Dunstan and to some extent his wife Diana.

Bernard was at that time an A.R.A. Most of the teaching staff were to do with the Royal Academy, hence the emphasis on observation and good drawing. Both Bernard and Diana were fine painters with an acute sensitivity for the handling of paint and colour, and perhaps most importantly of all a joy in the process of painting. They have remained my friends over the long years since studenthood.

Peter Greenham was head for my fist year. He was perhaps one of the finest draughtsmen in 20th Century Britain, Jane Dowling, his wife, more of a print maker. I have a wood engraving done as a Christmas card of the sky above Bethlehem hanging in my kitchen. I treasure it.

Maurice de Sausmarez took over as principal in my second year. He had a brilliantly intellectual brain, was a very good painter and above all an innovator.

Maurice believed that we should also have a well grounded appreciation for the other arts. W.H. Auden came and talked to us, also Nicholas Maw talked and played some of his music.

Out of a hundred students, a third of us have been lifetime practicing professional artists. Maurice was also kind – if he saw me on my bike and it was raining me and the bike got a lift in is V.W. camper van. Sadly he died of heart problems far too young. He was a great man.

Because Byam Shaw was a small school (about 100 students) and private my fellow students came from widely varying nationalities, backgrounds and ages though a similar degree of talent. We had no canteen, but an electric kettle and a staircase, also the pub at the end of the road where interaction between teachers and the taught was encouraged.

There was also emphasis on the History of Art and the composition and history of painting materials.

I also made good friends with a number of my fellow students. We did the ban the bomb march – at least in London, tried to makeshift trendy clothes, few owned cars or, if they did, they were of the string and banger variety.

After my second year Maurice de Sausmarez encouraged me to work alone in my attic at Carlton Hill except for printmaking and life classes. He also vetoes my spending time in Ireland, consequently the Christmas break was with the Craig family in London, Easter there or off with friends – one Easter a small group of us went painting on Mull staying in a cottage belonging to Sylvia. My summers were spent in France but more about that later. I occasionally saw my cousin Patrick Grattan-Bellew who was at Cambridge, but otherwise had little contact with my family.

The kitchen table and living room at Carlton Hill were the focus of my non-artschool life. Adrian Mitchell was the first to write a rave review of the Beatles who were recording in Abbey Road which was nearly next door. Mike Kustow and Adrian were working on the ‘Marat Sade’ for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Judy Scott-Foy knew all the satirists – Spike Milligan, John Cleese, David Frost, Bernard Levin et al. Eleanor Bron played the living room piano. She was a phenomenally gifted musician – and Edna O’Brien wept over the kitchen tabs for her breaking marriage. Her Gebler sons were playmates of Michael Craig. Michael spent a lot of time stretched on his belly in front of the television drawing – usually birds. He was eight or nine at the time. We all watched the horrific assassination of President Kennedy on that grim November day. The television was black and white and not very large. We also avidly followed “that was the week that was” as we knew the people in it.

The contraceptive pill was newly invented and not readily available and condoms not completely reliable, so virginity was a condition of self-protection rather than morality.

Charles, who I fell for, had gone on to the Royal Academy schools. He was not very tall, attractive in a Napoleonic way and, I later learnt, well-practised in the art of seduction. He was also very talented, owned an old red van and lived on a somewhat austere and damp house-boat called ‘Lady in Blue’ which was moored under willows on the Thames at Chiswick. His grandfather was the fashionable portrait painter of the nineteen twenties and thirties Ambrose McEvoy.

Charles persuaded me to relinquish my virginity in my bed at Carlton Hill accompanied by the sombre strains of Winston Churchill’s state funeral on the radio.

PhilippaVII – Student Days

VI – Carlton Hill

THE HOUSEHOLD OF 7B CARLTON HILL, my new home was made up of Trix Craig, once married to Maurice, Catherine aged thirteen, dark haired with an adult air of control which only an adolescent can master, Michael aged about eight, a quiet and dreamy serious boy and Meggie, a very gentle black Welsh Collie.

Judy Scott-Fox was the other lodger. She was straight red-headed, tall and well built and worked in the theatre public relations field. She was frighteningly sophisticated and appeared to know every one of any importance or about to become important in the entertainment business.

The poet Adrian Mitchell and Celia his wife, an actress, lived in the basement flat, as did the garage which contained a vintage Ford which was very occasionally driven by Trix and most important of all and in the process of being restored, the Grand Luxe Delage green racing car belonging to Maurice.

Trixie herself was fair, not fat or thin, still Irish even after many years in London, and radiating warmth, kindness and intelligence more than anyone I have ever known.

The scrubbed kitchen table was the living heart of the house, the place of mugs of instant coffee, endless toast made on the cooker’s grill, comfort, solace and kindness for all who needed it. The drawing room – living was also on the ground floor and overlooked the garden which was grass with a couple of large trees at the end. The living room was also home to a baby grand piano, the black and white television set and a plentiful supply of books. I believe it was truly home for everyone who had stayed there.

Maurice and Trix were on speaking, if impatient, terms. Maurice was by then married to Jeanne and was the owner of an old English Sheep Dog. The devoted Jeanne spun and knitted a jersey for him out of its wool. Trix had a not live-in lover, Jeremy Brooks, a novelist who was married to Eleanor, a rather good painter who became known for her portrayals of her cleaning lady. It was a fairly undramatic and stable arrangement.

I had remained in contact with my closest childhood friend, Rosemary Fitzgerald – “Ro”. We had known each other from babyhood, our families being friends and neighbours for generations. Ro was somewhat round and dark haired looking strikingly like her eighteenth century forbear, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the great Irish patriot. Our common interests were botanising – we had the freedom of the countryside, bog and mountain on our ponies, and a somewhat precocious taste in reading material, novels possibly not completely understood or at least the likes of D.H. Lawrence who was banned in Ireland at that time. Ro eventually went to Oxford which was rather unusual for an Irish girl at that time. She had married young and rather unhappily and was living in Gloucestershire so we continued to see each other.

Ro’s circle of friends included Desmond Guinness, Desmond Fitzgerald, the Knight of Glin and David Mlinaric, who was to become the decorative advisor for the National Trust. Maurice and Trix had tutored the younger Guinness children and Maurice nurtured Desmond’s love of eighteenth century architecture. I had also remained in contact with Victor Coates, occasional lunches at The Ritz which I was too nervous to enjoy.

Daily life was cycling to the Byam Shaw, being worked hard and loving it. The Byam Shaw training aimed to turn us into professional painters capable of earning our livings as professional painters. Around thirty percent of us did, which was an unusually high proportion.

Maurice De Sausmarez became principal. As well as being an outstanding painter he was an intellectual, a born teacher of great charm and determination. We were incredibly lucky to have had him in our lives.

Maurice also believed that we should be appreciative of music, both classical and contemporary and the literary arts. Among writers W.H. Auden talked to us and also the composer Nicholas Maw. An upright piano was brought in for the occasion. Maurice would also, if I was lucky, give me and my bike a lift in the back of his Volkswagen Camper Van if it was very cold or wet. Tragically he died too young from heart problems. I was privileged to have had him in my life.

My other main tutors were Bernard Dunstan R.A. and his wife Diana. Bernard is a fine colourist with a marvellous feeling for the handling of paint. I probably learnt most from him by life modelling in his studio in Chiswick. Certainly this gave me permission to paint fast, drawing with my brush, use colour as part of drawing and in general purely enjoy the whole process. Diana, sometimes small subtly coloured still lives of wilting bunches of wild flowers. She always said the colours became more subtle and interesting as they faded. Bernard and Diana have remained my friends. Bernard’s official tutorials were somewhat more gossip than stern lectures on the meaning of art but one way or another he taught me well.

 

PhilippaVI – Carlton Hill

V – The Byam Shaw School of Art

THE BYAM SHAW SCHOOL OF ART was situated in a small road off Kensington Church Street at the Notting Hill end. The building was the classic Victorian Studio, plaster casts and still life on the ground floor, and the life painting and drawing studio upstairs. The life room was heated by the classic anthracite stove original to the building, using photo projection it could have well served for the set of La Boheme, or for that matter Trilby.

The school was founded in the late 19th Century to teach rather classical drawing and painting. Evening classes were twice a week from 7.00pm to 9.30pm. From my first timid entrance I understood that I knew absolutely nothing but was intoxicated by the surroundings and above all wanted to learn.

The model was posed on a low platform, the students seated on donkeys which were low stools around four feet long with a prop for a drawing board at one end. The idea was to be able to slide back so you could see what you were doing and also have free movement of your arms – so lesson one, use the whole arm not the wrist – try and draw a circle using your wrist and then with the whole arm from the shoulder, the first impossible and the second easy. Use your pencil with arm outstretched and one eye shut to measure the proportions – Draw – the ultimate aim was to achieve fluency and accuracy.

I was still living at 7 Neville Terrace and could comfortably fit evening classes into the workings of the household.

After two terms the school suggested that I apply for a scholarship to study full time. There were four scholarships which covered fees and a Leverhulme Bursary for a hundred pounds. As the Byam Shaw was a private school with a world class reputation there were around two hundred other candidates. I submitted my home made cardboard portfolio filled with whatever I could muster and to my intense joy and surprise was awarded an open scholarship for four years and the Leverhulme Bursary.

I went back to ireland to tell my parents – the reaction was ‘OUT’ – I spent twelve hours in Ireland. Their reaction was not in any way understandable. I was just twenty-one.

I stayed on with the Savernake household for most of my first year as a full time student. Classes were from 10.00am to 5.30pm with compulsory evening classes for scholars. I did my best to cope, getting up at 5.30am to perform my domestic duties and finishing late at night, but inevitably my health gave out so I became homeless relying on fellow students’ kindness and sofas. One drama was fainting, cutting open my forehead and being rushed to St. George’s Hospital in an ambulance with sirens and blue lights.

To explain what happened next I have to go back to my great-grandmother Belinda Coates. She lived in Halkin Street in Mayfair and had supported my favourite aunt Bettina Gratten-Bellew during the time Bettina was a pupil-teacher at Madame Vacani’s School of Ballet. I don’t suppose that could have been much more approved of than studying art.

My aunt was a gentle rather intellectual woman, a keen gardener and member of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society and partook in whatever was available by way of intellectual stimulus in Kilkenny. Her husband Hal was very tall, hated parties and gallivantings, but was fond enough of me to introduce me to the eighteenth century philosophers and thinkers in leather bound volumes in the library at Mount Loftus. I was also fond of my cousins Patrick and Idrone who were a bit older than I was.

Among my aunt’s friends were Peggy and Hubert Butler – Hubert the great Irish scholar and writer, Peggy the sister of Tyrone Guthrie. Peggy and Hubert spent every winter in London staying at the house belonging to Trixie Craig, 7b Carlton Hill, NW8.

At the end of my first year the Byam Shaw principal, Peter Greenham, suggested I apply to the then L.C.C. for a major county award, so another home made portfolio, thin and hungry I went before the Board at the then County Hall with no expectations as the Byam Shaw was private, I was Irish, and no one from the Byam Shaw had ever been given that award. They gave it to me so I now had £9 a week, enough to live on.

Peggy and my aunt Bettina introduced me to Trixie who agreed to take me as a lodger. I moved into the attic room of the Victorian gothic semi an to among the happiest years of my life.

PhilippaV – The Byam Shaw School of Art

IV – Return From America

AFTER MY RETURN FROM AMERICA I spent the summer in Ireland, not eating and being and feeling completely useless. My parents were money worried and distracted by the baby. Corries, our home, had been sold to the American family who had originally built it and we were living in another large old house belonging to family friends, so the usual question cropped up “What to do with Philippa?” The answer, more cousins, this time in Vienna.

Jenny Franklin was married to Francis Guth whom she had met on a train in Mexico. Jenny had been doing mosaic murals for the University of Mexico. She was a talented artist. Francis ostensibly had a linoleum manufacturing business near Vienna and an interest in a firm designing ski clothes. I could learn to design ski clothes though I had never skied and was both inept and uninterested in sport. Francis was also a famous gourmand and erudite writer about food.

Their flat in Vienna was in a large modern block just outside the Ringstrasse. It was luxurious and large but oddly impersonal, and my role was basically to be a companion to Jenny, who I was fond of.

Francis was often away on business and we were discouraged from going out into the city, so no museums, galleries or famous Viennese cafes. We did have one trip to see the Hungarian border. I saw no sign of either places making ski clothes or linoleum. Decades later I was told that Francis was in the C.I.A. which would explain these anomalies.

Anyway, after about only three months I was dispatched back to Ireland, this time first class on the Liner America which sailed from Bremerhaven via Southampton and called in at Cobh on the way to New York. I was quietly drawing the forest of cranes on Southampton docks when Salvador Dali came over to look at what I was doing. He was with his wife Gala and I knew who they were but was far too shy to speak to them. He looked through my sketch book and told me I had to be a painter. My mother had kept a postcard of his crucifixion in her room and I had seen his paintings in Paris. His small kindness gave me courage which is the most precious gift anyone can be given.

So, home again. I told my parents “Salvador Dali says I must be a painter,” the response predictably was OUT. This time to London with ten pounds and a job hand sewing in Hardy Amies workshop. Having been taught by nuns I was a very competent hand sewer. I had absolutely no other even remotely marketable skills. I lived in a small bedsit in Kensington. I had no friends and the sewing job lasted for less than two months. I had about six jobs in the next six months, among them assistant in Foyles bookshop, shop girl in a greengrocers,and an artist material shop and framers in Kensington Church Street.

Eventually I found a job as a live-in au pair with a family in South Kensington. Lady Savernake nee Wills was divorced. She was dark, vivid and very sociable. The children were David, a quiet very well-mannered boy who was away at prep school, Sylvia aged around eight and Carina, two years younger. They had a King Charles Spaniel called Suzie and there was also a Swedish au pair called Babette.

I liked them all, though Babette’s culinary speciality of mashed potato and swede turnip with chopped apricots through it served with boiled meatballs was arguably one of the least palatable dishes I have pretended to enjoy. Consequently my duties came to involve doing the cooking, the ironing and washing, helping with homework, babysitting the girls, walking the dog and general housework. I had my own room, some free time, some sort of security and was mostly contented if not actively happy. I also had a small wage.

Neville Terrace was within walking distance of the Royal Albert Hall and that first summer I went to as many of the Proms as I could. Most memorable was Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting Haydn’s Creation with choirs of hundreds. I came out reeling with the sheer power and beauty of it.

The V&A and the Natural History Museum near and fairly popular with the children, also Kensington Gardens. Drawing and painting were permitted. One summer we spent a month in a cottage on Lady Savernake’s father’s estate Meggernie Castle in Glenlyon Perthshire, which was happy as the children could run fairly wild and I could paint. At Christmas the family went away and I was left as house security alone in London – Denny’s tinned chicken and mushroom pie was my festive dinner.

Later that winter fate, in the form of Clody Hall-Dare, intervened. Clody was a childhood friend from Ireland. She recognised me on Kensington Church Street on a cold rainy evening looking hungrily at buns in a shop window. Clody was in her first year at the Byam Shaw School of Art just up the road. She introduced me to the school and paid for evening classes for me for the rest of that year.

PhilippaIV – Return From America

III – Growing Up

I FINISHED, OR SO I THOUGHT, my formal education around my seventeenth birthday. A year had to be filled, so through the nuns an au pair job was arranged with a family in Sicily. I was to improve the English of twin girls aged sixteen and their ten-year-old sister and also generally make myself useful.

Sicily MapSenora Proto was well-upholstered and elegant, her husband shorter, moustached, kind and a business man. Their main house was a seventeenth century palazzo in the small port town of Milazzo. A house of much beauty but few luxuries other than an excellent cook.

Of course I had no Italian but at least Church Latin which was some help in learning rudimentary Italian. They also had two other houses, one high above the sea with views of both Mount Etna and Stromboli and the Aeolian Islands, the other inland in a large garden with vines and a wood of about a hundred Camellia trees. There were family gatherings which always included small and very elderly aunts dressed in black. I was encouraged to draw and paint watercolours, read aloud and do needlework. I was extremely happy.

Before the year was up I received a summons from my mother to return immediately to Ireland. I was to pay my own fare and travel overland via Paris where we had a cousin, but if I needed to contact him I was to be very careful as he had a mistress. My route was via Rome where, thanks to the nuns again, I had somewhere to stay and a public audience with the then Pope.

Of course I missed my connection in Paris. I did not want to be a debutante either in London or America.

My beloved cousin Victor Coates lived in a beautiful apartment on Avenue Georges Mandel in the 16th arrondissement. He had a business which made furnishing fabrics and employed the best designers. He was married to Germaine who, though not conventionally pretty or beautiful, was a jolie laide and dressed when possible by Dior.

Enter the spirit of my great grandmother Belinda. She had married again, after my great-grandfather died, to Maurice Coates who was hugely wealthy. Belinda was a small woman, witty, very kind and also both elegant and very beautiful. She was part of the circle of Edward VII. She took the young Victor Coates under her wing. He told me that when the King was being entertained at Rackheath, the vast country house in Norfolk (the town house was in Mayfair), the children were all confined to the stables to keep them from observing anything unsuitable.

Entering the apartment was almost the bravest thing I had ever done. I was terrified but it was to change my life.

I was given an omelette and a quarter bottle of champagne and settled into the tiny maid’s room at the top of the building and asked to stay as long as I wanted. Germaine took my appearance in hand – a good coiffeuse and very smart clothes, Victor my eyes and my soul.

I was put in a taxi every morning to go to a gallery or museum and report back at lunchtime or sometimes the evening on what I had seen and understood. The Musée d’Art Moderne was within walking distance as was the Musée de l’Homme. Remember I knew absolutely nothing whatsoever about contemporary art so it was the sun emerging from a bank of cloud…

Mattisse’s great cut outs – Pollock’s canvases, tiny Schwitters collages made from bus tickets, Bonnard and Vuillard’s tender interiors and of course Monet’s great water lillies.

Of course there was also the Louvre – Rubens great Marie de Medici series, the 14th century Avignon Pietà which moved me to tears, the windows of the Sainte-Chapelle seen by snow light – March was still cold – more beauty than I could ever dream of, more happiness than I thought was possible, but good things end too quickly, Ireland was waiting and then unwillingly to America.

 

I travelled from Cobh to New York, Holland America Line, suitably equipped with frocks from Switzers and deep feelings of total inadequacy. My aunt Catherine met me and we travelled to Richmond Virginia.

My father’s older brother Murray was married to Catherine, a somewhat difficult heiress. They had two sons, Murray and John Temple, who was my age. Catherine wanted a borrowed daughter to put through the debutante season.

My uncle Murray (the Major) was a pleasantly contented man helped by the mastership of a pack of hounds (the Deep Run Hunt), the ownership and editorship of a weekly paper (the Goochland Gazette), a 60-foot yacht kept on the Chesapeake, and enough whisky to ensure continual conviviality. Their house was outside Richmond, substantial but not beautiful.

My aunt reiterated that it was most important for me to be popular. I think the general idea was to find a suitable husband.

The social mores were very different for an American adolescent girl, especially a Southerner, to the norm for a European. That America for girls was strictly non-intellectual and age segregated. Racial segregation was still the norm. This horrified me. My father had insisted rightly that ‘you treat the prince like the pauper and the pauper like the prince’. He was right.

So parties, parties, parties. No books, no paints, no adult or intellectual conversation, though I admit that John Temple would sometimes disappear at parties with me to play chess. Some of the dance bands were wonderful – black of course. Sailing was good fun and I was allowed to act as whipper-in to my uncle’s hounds.

He was a big man and fine horseman. The horses were usually ex-steeplechasers imported from Ireland and at least I rode reasonably well.

I had other cousins in New York. My great-grandmother Belinda’s eldest daughter Norah, who was not a beauty, had unexpectedly married Robert Lion Gardiner whose family had always owned a great deal of Long Island and land that was to become New York. The original family house Sagtikos Manor was built in 1576. Alexandra, Norah’s daughter, was mother to Alexandra who was my exact contemporary. They had a vast penthouse on 720 Park Avenue and a lavish country house at Oyster Bay.

Cousin Alex was sympathetic, museums encouraged, music encouraged, books and conversation encouraged; in general all the things I craved. Alexandra was beautiful with auburn hair and a strong resemblance to our great-grandmother. I loved visiting them. Alex was passionate about ecology, nature, horses and conservation and in adult life has done important work in those fields. We liked each other then and I suppose we had in common determination to follow our dreams.

Bob Gardiner Alex’s uncle was at once both fabulously wealthy and extremely close fisted. He showed me his collection of precious jewels which were kept in a vault in The Trust and National Bank N.Y., pearls, huge emeralds in a necklace, diamond tiaras – all locked up and unworn.

My time in America ended with the news that my mother, aged 50, was pregnant with a baby due in March 1959 – “Come home at once.”

PhilippaIII – Growing Up

II – My Grandparents and Great-Grandmother Belinda Coates

I WRITE ABOUT MY PROGENITORS AS THEY are an important factor in the painter I became.

Bayliss, Jones & Bayliss Advertisement 1914

Bayliss, Jones & Bayliss Advertisement 1914

My paternal grandmother Annie Taylor was Virginian. Her family house was built in Fredricksburg Virginia in 1722, though the family had settled before that. They fared badly in the civil war and Annie needed to marry money. She married Horace Bayliss, whose family business Bayliss, Jones and Bayliss was an iron founding and innovation firm in the North of England.

My grandfather’s uncle was the famous Victorian watercolourist Sir Wyke Bayliss. He painted the interiors of cathedrals almost exclusively. When I discovered his work I was amazed to find the structures of his compositions were so similar to my own.

Sir Wyke Bayliss - Watercolourist

Sir Wyke Bayliss – Watercolourist

My grandparents’ marriage sadly disintegrated.

Annie was a handsome, accomplished and strong-minded woman. She played the concert harp, accompanying herself not always tunefully to songs about the old south. Her daughter Brooke played both violin and piano well and also composed. My grandmother was also an excellent photographer, using an old-fashioned camera and glass plate negatives. Her photographs are beautifully composed and atmospheric. She was a V.A.D. in the First World War, which from what I have read was both tough and exhausting.

She moved to Ireland after the war, ostensibly so my father could hunt, which was how my parents met.

Granny Bayliss had one other great gift. She was a superb cook, though never admitting to go near the kitchen. How she learnt is a mystery, though probably sneaking into the kitchen, watching and tasting. I remember perfect salmon with mayonnaise, chocolate cake of a dense and moist perfection, praline brittle, and yeast based muffins, all of which should have been impossible in 1950’s Ireland – and the girl always did it.

The Invention of Memory by Simon LoftusMy maternal grandparents, Jack Loftus of Mount Loftus in Kilkenny, was the eldest son of a distinguished Irish family (see ‘The Invention of Memory’ by Simon Loftus).

Jack also needed to marry money. He was fortunate in my grandmother May Lichtenstadt, the very beautiful kind and gentle daughter of a Viennese Jewish banking family. She sadly died young in 1927 after rearing four children.

Kate Gordon, who was her lady’s maid, made our frocks. Kate was married to the local blacksmith. I loved the forge but also Kate for her consolation to my plump and short-sighted teenage self. The dresses she made were comfortable and fitted and if not glamorous, at least becoming. She always talked about my grandmother.

Of my great-grandmother, Belinda Coates more in the next chapter…

PhilippaII – My Grandparents and Great-Grandmother Belinda Coates

I – My Earliest Memory of Painting

M Y EARLIEST MEMORY OF THE IDEA OF PAINTING was around the age of two or three, standing on the lavatory seat watching the bombs exploding over the Firth of Forth in Scotland.  My father was in the Royal Navy.  As was proper then, there was a fine white starched lavatory cloth, also I knew where my mother kept her pastels which I had not yet been forbidden to touch so I painted what I titled “A Cat in Heaven” with predictable consequences.

I remember at around four trying to draw a house and being explained the basic principles of perspective and around the same age being told to copy a child-like picture of an apple which was all splashy paint in the wrong colours so I tried to do a real apple.

I knew from early on that I wanted to be truthful about what I saw and that it was communication that was without words, also that as I was myopic I was more aware of colour than line.

From the age of seven to about 10 we lived in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). I eventually attended the convent school in Trincomalee in the company of another very bright little boy as it was thought that the nuns could manage us rather better than the inept staff of the Naval School. The class was set to draw bananas on lined paper with hard coloured pencils. I pressed so hard that I scored three pages of my exercise book. That was the epiphany. I knew I needed good paints and wanted only to spend my life as a painter – much easier wished for than done.

We returned to Ireland, big house, governesses, being able to ride well of prime importance, drawing and painting discouraged or as punishment forbidden, as was reading during the afternoon. I trained my pony to stand still when I dropped the reins so I could sketch. Fortunately I was not found out. I also trained my dog to sit behind me on the pony.

School was St. Mary’s Convent Shaftesbury between 13 and 16 years old. I enjoyed learning but hated organised games. My parents requested the nuns to discourage drawing and painting, though an elderly art teacher gave me free lessons on Saturday mornings. She taught me the rudiments of flower painting, Irises in particular. I wish I could thank her as it is a love that has continued all my life.

To be continued…

PhilippaI – My Earliest Memory of Painting

A Home That’s a Work of Art


Article about Philippa’s former home in Ardclough, shown above.  By Helen Rogers, Property Editor for the Irish Tribune.

ARTIST PHILIPPA BAYLISS BOUGHT THE DERELICT SCHOOLHOUSE 30 years ago and converted it in her own unique way.

Thirty-two years is a long time to spend in any one house, particularly if, as an artist, your home is as much an expression of yourself as any of your paintings.

Time, imagination, life, colour, gifts from friends, chance finds, opera props, even a stuffed bear, a cottage garden grown wildly so there would be more to paint are all essential ingredients of Philippa Bayliss’s canal-side home at Ardclough in Co Kildare, all mixed together like pigments on a palette and displayed with the artist’s spatial sensitivity to create an essential and personal statement.  It seems daft to talk like this about a stonecut granite schoolhouse in one of the most beautiful settings you could imagine.  But the sad feeling you get as you leave Bayliss’s 1810 home, built by the local landlord Lord Cloncurry for the children of the area, is that something very precious will be lost when she sells.

The property, with its rickety spiral staircase winding to the open-plan livingroom upstairs, lit on three sides by 12 identical eight-paned windows, set deep and high into the walls, is certainly in need of refurbishment, but when the walls are painted, the floors, the kitchen remodelled and the Bayliss presence removed, something equally wonderful will be lost.

True, a lot of the paintwork, from the veridian green of the small bedroom inside the front door, the coral of the hall and the fantastically wonderful mural of a tropical scene Bayliss painted in the bathroom have all seen better years.

Time, imagination, life, colour, gifts from friends, chance finds, opera props, even a stuffed bear, a cottage garden grown wildly… all mixed together like pigments on a palette.

But refurbishing this extraordinary home, described in one of the articles written about it for coffee table books and overseas glossy magazines as ‘sweet disorder’ seems much like overly-restoring an antique. Re-cover with bright new material, polish up too many scratches, and scrub clean all the imperfections and you’ve immediately destroyed what you loved.

But the house is for sale through Paddy Jordan auctioneers for €475,000.  And Philippa Bayliss, painter of plants, the horses and boys at Smithfield market, the countryside and colour of Mexico, the original curator at Castletown House and a real personality around Celbridge, is leaving Ardclough, the home that provided most of the inspiration for her highly regarded paintings and the creative cocoon for her three sons, Temple Garner, head chef at the Mermaid Cafe, James, a sculptor, and Nicholas an Olympic canoe team member and now a website designer.

After two visits to Taxco, seven thousand feet up in the mountains south west of Mexico City, she has been invited to stay there and paint permanently, something she has been yearning to do since her first visit but a plan which had to be put on hold two years ago after she discovered she had breast cancer.  Her treatment over and fully recovered, she says it is now time to go.

“If it weren’t for the fact that I am moving somewhere I really, really want to go to, I would never leave Ardclough,” she says. “We have been here for over 30 years and this has never been lived in as a house by any other family.  It has never been sold on the open market before.”  She and her former husband and the three boys, all under four, saw the house while she was working in Castletown House for her friend Desmond Guinness back in 1972. The old schoolhouse was almost derelict, most of the windows cemented in and the interior virtually a shell.

“It was sans floor downstairs, sans electricity and sans sewage. We had to get buckets of water from the canal. Anyway, it was hell,” she says in her deep, definite voice.

“I had come from a background where we lived in large, Georgian houses but we were practically penniless and we needed somewhere to live. It was almost unheard of to do what we did and everybody thought I was crazy.

We arrived with rolls of polythene and a staple gun to cover the floor downstairs so we could live in the house.

But I wanted the place very badly because I knew we could make of upstairs one decent-sized, beautiful room.”  Gradually, they began the conversion, taking a radical view of the house for the time.

Re-cover with bright new material, polish up too many scratches, and scrub clean all the imperfections and you’ve immediately destroyed what you loved.

The huge room upstairs was to become the living/diningroom and kitchen, each space defined by old rugs and an eclectic collection of furniture and heirlooms, punctuated at each end by a Georgian fireplace taken from a derelict house and a freestanding solid fuel Stanley cooker which heats the room and the water.

Bayliss’s touch is everywhere, from the campaign bed she found which had belonged to a general in the Crimean War and which now takes pride of place as a sofa, to the old French-style cabinet which was a “revolting shade of yellow wood,” which she drag-painted in blue.

In the corner at the staircase is a great stuffed bear.  “It was shot by my ex husband’s great uncle in 1901 in Canada.

The bear came with my husband and while he left, it stayed on.”   The room has great light, because it is upstairs and lit by windows on three sides. It has beautiful views of the canal across the road, with the now regular sight of barges and houseboats quietly gliding by.

It also has wonderful acoustics, “It was built so the schoolmaster could stand at one end and be heard down at the other.”

A door opens onto a roof garden, a verdant, sheltered sanctuary overlooking the main garden which itself is a natural, untamed riot of shape and colour.

Downstairs, Bayliss’s painting easel in her studio is set beside a huge window looking out onto the garden, framed by an Albertine rose.

“Painting is the day job.

With three young children I couldn’t go anywhere, so I planted the garden to have something to paint.”  The big studio is an old coachhouse which is linked to the main house by an extension.

This light-filled room has access to both the side and back gardens, where the giant leaves of a gunnera are a breathtaking sight.

The downstairs bedrooms of the house are more quintessential Bayliss.

A painting of a Hunt Ball in the Shelbourne, “I hated them so I decided to paint them and a cousin hid me while I drew,” decorates one bedroom, another, painted vibrant viridian is dominated by a giant bed and an intricate tapestry inspired by a Yeats poem stitched by Bayliss when she was younger.

The artist’s own bedroom is furnished with a wonderful lit bateau she inherited from her great grandmother and which will be going to Mexico with her.

Again, though in need of repair, this area has all the elements of a wonderful room, including a dressing area which, no doubt, new owners will convert into an en-suite.

The final bedroom was her boys’ room at the back of the house, fitted with cupboards and bunk beds.

The deep blue tropical paradise of a family bathroom stands strategically in the middle of these ground-floor bedrooms. Run a deep bath, light candles and you could be in a blue lagoon.

As she talks, Bayliss’s eye catches another of the paintings she finished while in Mexico, a big, boisterous depiction of the vegetable market at Taxco where she will live.

In the foreground are big ears of corn.  “It’s one of the joys of moving to a country like Mexico that I can actually enjoy its wonderful cuisine,” says Bayliss longingly.

“I’m coeliac and I love food and to cook but I can’t eat anything with gluten in it. I’m not allowed eat bread, sauces, chocolate and I’m not supposed to drink whiskey. . . So it is simply wonderful to go to a county whose entire cuisine is based on maize.”

PhilippaA Home That’s a Work of Art

Transfigurations of Light

By Bruce Swansey

F OR A NUMBER OF YEARS and in an informal way, Irish artists have been visiting and working in Mexico.  This, in part, has been possible due to the presence of Irish people living in Mexico such as Sean O’Criadain and Peter Lamb, who invited painters like Patrick Scott to stay with him.  Pat worked with weavers in Teotitlán del Valle, in Oaxaca, merging his designs with the expertise of the artisans and exhibited his paintings at the Taylor Gallery.

On a more systematic basis and thanks to the enthusiasm of Alfonso López Monreal, a well known and respected Mexican artist in Ireland, a permanent Irish-Mexican exchange was started in 1980.  Marian Clarke from Northern Ireland travelled to Zacatecas, one of Mexico’s most beautiful baroque cities which would not be an exaggeration to describe as a poem carved in stone.  Marian has gone back to Mexico City and to Zacatecas, Alfonso’s home town, several times, and many Irish poets and painters have followed her steps.

Painting volcanoes-  photo by Daniel Dultzin

The artists that Alfonso, who has lived in Belfast for many years, has hosted in Zacatecas are numerous.  They come from as far afield as Cork, Donegal, Dublin and Northern Ireland, all united in a territory traditionally open to enriching and being enriched by contact with foreign artists and intellectuals.  Mary McGowan, Paddy Maloney, Oliver Whelan and Brian Ferran, among other painters, and Patrick Galvin, Paddy Donnelly and Joan Newmann, among other poets, have been in Zacatecas.  Other professionals like art historians Rosemarie Mulcahy and Denise Ferran and curators like Ted Hickey, have also been involved.  Their work in Mexico has led to various exhibitions and events since 1984 to this year, including Oliver Whelan’s next exhibition in July in the Gallery Marie-Louise Ferrari in Xalapa, Veracruz.

Alfonso is interested in providing his colleagues with a living and working experience that allows them to nurture their art.  Through these almost two decades of permanent cultural exchange, Alfonso created a true artistic dialogue between Ireland and Mexico and has discovered that both cultures have a lot in common.  All of the Irish artists who have travelled to Mexico have benefited from one aspect which is essential to all painters and visual artists in general:  the light.

On this subject, the reader knows that Ireland’s light is always subject to extreme contrasts.  Even when the sun is shining and the light is as clear as crystal there are always clouds creating a chiaroscuro effect.  Light is there but so is shadow.  Louis MacNeice has captured this quality of Irish light in The Sunlight on the Garden:  ‘The sunlight on the garden / Hardens and grows cold / We cannot cage the minute / Within its nets of gold / When all is told / We cannot beg for pardon.’

On the other hand, those people that have been in Mexico, regardless of the region they were visiting, will probably agree that it is simply impossible to ignore the light.  The sun literally collapses on the earth, creating explosions of brilliance, a light that is so strong that it is sometimes intimidating.  This light, that so generously inundates everything is also related in a peculiar way to the relating of colour which is, without exaggerating, the raw material of Mexican painting.  Alfonso Reyes, Mexican poet and essayist, synthesises the Mexican sun in his poem entitled Monterrey Sun, translated into English by Samuel Beckett:  ‘Indigo all the sky, / all the house of gold. / How it poured into me, / the sun, through my eyes! / A sea inside my skull, / go where I may, and through the clouds be drawn, / oh what weight of sun / upon me, oh what hurt / within me of that cistern / of sun that journeys with me!

Looking Down on the Street, Mexico City

The relation to colour is so important that even when Diego Rivera was in Paris experiencing his cubist period, according to Octavio Paz, ‘his bright colours took him aside from that tendency and exposed him to the criticism that cubists feared the most:  to incur in decoration.’  Certainly, Philppa Bayliss committed this sin.  She is quite aware of the Mexican light and each of the 52 oil paintings she has brought back to Ireland express her joy in that light.  It is a changing radiance as she travels from Mexico City, which was known to be ‘the most transparent region’, to Tepoztlan, where the light glitters among the luxuriant vegetation of the tropics and transforms the ocean into every-changing silver scales.

The Embassy of Mexico is delighted to further Alfonso’s initiative and to begin a programme that Philippa Bayliss has just inaugurated in 1998.  This programme aims to bring together Irish and Mexican artists, convinced that they are excellent ambassadors for both countries, and from whose experience we shall all benefit.  It also aims to open markets for Ireland and for Mexico because, lively as they are, they are not big enough to contain the effervescent creativity at both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

The names listed above are, indeed, only the tip of the iceberg.  We are convinced that there have been more Irish artists who have travelled to Mexico and have been fascinated, like Phil Kelly, by its light.  For this reason, the Embassy of Mexico would like to find out as much as possible about all Irish artists who have worked in Mexico.  By combining forces, the Embassy is certain that a meaningful retrospective exhibition could be organised.

This would demonstrate that the geographic distance between Mexico and Ireland disappears by virtue of the fact that each of the countries exerts upon its artists a powerful magnetism.

Birds in Mexico City - Philippa Bayliss

Birds in Mexico City

PhilippaTransfigurations of Light