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