Poem Hunter
0181 Mr And Mrs Andrews Seated In Their Estate
MS (8.4.1929 / Marton, Lancashire)

0181 Mr And Mrs Andrews Seated In Their Estate

Beware, if you’re a portrait painter,
of being born in England. And if
you’re skilled at background –
the rolling landscape which they're
so proud to own – or painting highlights
upon a silk or satin gown…be doubly hesitant –
we ruined Holbein and we ruined Van Dyck,
with our demands to make us victorious,
happy and glorious, long to reign over others
in our stately home, later in
the auction house, in
the ‘collection’ of the recent millionaire, in
the public gallery; though while you live, Sir Portrait Painter
we'll enrol you in our club as temporary gent…

Beware - if you’re a potential patron -
of being painted by the great:
in the corners of their flattery
whose price you resent but need in greed to have,
lurks truth. You, sir, looking so judicious,
why are your lips so meanly pressed?
You, young man, aspiring to a lordly rank,
why are your eyes already lined
with wenching, gaming, debt?

Beware - if you’re an ‘art critic’ or a lecturer -
of your so ready, easy, redbrick politics
which masquerade as ‘context’ – for
there may be traps..

‘Here, ladies and gentlemen – would you
stand back a little so that everyone can see? –
are Mr Robert Andrews of Sudbury, Suffolk, and
his wife Frances, painted by that
enchanting painter Thomas Gainsborough
around 1748 to 1749… they chose
the right man for the job: here are the rolling miles
of this royal throne of kings, this
sceptred island, this jewel set
in a silver sea, this earth, this realm, this –
England – which they have the impertinence
of the nouveau riche to think they own – note,
in contrast to Gainsborough’s customary lovely touch,
how awkwardly they pose – is this the
first black cloud that presages the fall
of ancien regimes? The first comment
on social class in England’s much-delayed
Enlightenment? The socialist critic Peter Berger
says of this revealing document in paint…’

Alas for theory
about this awkward pair: the painting’s raw
because it’s not quite finished and now
over-cleaned, no mellowing brownish final varnish;
and notice the bedroom shadows under
her eyes, above the prim finishing-school mouth
that almost smiles: they’ve only married this very
month: he’s twenty-two, she’s just sixteen.

and they have had their
first lovers’ tiff: should Gainsborough
paint in the pheasant which her Bob’s just shot,
which is already outlined in her lap -
and spoil her new, so sky-blue satin dress?

They haven’t yet decided; Gainsborough’s left
the painting unfinished, while they kiss, make up, decide;
he has another appointment booked.

How much more interesting than what we know
is what, alas, we don’t.

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