The next installment of Tallis Steelyard’s latest tale… Previous episodes can be found at (1)Tallis Steelyard’s own blog and those of his friends: (2) Chris Graham at TRSA, (3) Anita Dawes and Jaye Marie, (4) Annette Rochelle Aben, (5) Stevie Turner, (6) Robbie Cheadle, (7) Suzanne Joshi, (8) Ken Gierke, (9) Joy Lennick (10) this post… and you will be able to read the finale chez Tallis.
Belique Drane is a natural artist. As a child she’d used a burnt stick to draw on the white painted walls of the parlour. Her mother, Taffetia, had been entirely unimpressed. Still as Belique grew older she allowed her artistic energies to be channelled to media which didn’t have to be scrubbed down afterwards.
In her early teens she started earning a little money from her painting. Admittedly she was selling pictures of quaint rural cottages, kittens and similar. She even sold some portraits; the purchasers enthusiastically commenting that the painting actually looked like somebody they knew.
A family council was held when Belique reached eighteen. She was almost the baby of the family and a lot of her siblings were now at the stage where they had incomes of a sort. They decided that between them they could raise the funds to put Belique through the University of Port Naain where she could study art properly.
Whilst I confess that it’s nice so see a family hanging together and supporting those members who need support, I would merely point out that I’d have been more impressed had they shown the same enthusiasm for supporting other, more distant family members, including the offspring of Taffetia’s younger sister, (purely by way of example.) When looked at dispassionately I think we can say that the siblings regarded the money they contributed as an investment. Admittedly it was a little risky, nothing was guaranteed, but there was an unstated assumption that should Belique make good as an artist, the money they had invested would be returned several fold.
At university Belique very much had her eyes opened. Out went the kittens and the cottages; in came strong colours, harsh lines and unsubtle political statement. At the end of her first year she was widely remarked to be one of Port Naain’s ‘up and coming’ artists. At the end of her second year she was asked to exhibit in the University’s annual exhibition. Her picture, ‘The lonely hangman homeward plods’ was described as a masterpiece in subtle blacks and greys. In her final year she submitted three pieces for her final marks. These were ‘Portrait of the artist as a decayed corpse,’ ‘Broken on the wheel’, and ‘Carrion birds and the gibbet.’ She passed with top marks. Indeed her final rating has not been exceeded since.
She took up the University’s offer of a studio, (funded by donor who gave an annual sum of money for the young artist most likely to enhance the reputation of the University arts department.) Here she continued to produce works of searing authenticity. Her portrait, ‘Beggar woman with pustules’ was purchased by the University and still hangs in the Great Hall.
It was during this year that she created the works that cemented her reputation as the most forward looking of the new, futuristic, ‘social realism’ school. Her works were sought by a small group of dedicated collectors and she managed both to repay her family to their obvious delight; and also to put a little by.
Thanks to both the brilliance of her reputation, and her sensible refusal to open letters she received from the University vice chancellor, she managed to retain her free studio for almost three years. By this time she had come to two conclusions. Firstly, with the passage of time, her unchallenged position as the leader of the ‘social realism’ school was being challenged. New talent was constantly coming forward.
Secondly, her sales were drying up. She was still selling pieces but for less than half of the price she had previously commanded. She made a point of carefully watching the people visiting the exhibitions, and also made a note of those who not merely visited but who actually bought something. She noted with interest, if not a little alarm, that the works of the ‘social realism’ school were being bought mainly be a dozen collectors, with perhaps another dozen people dabbling around the edges. This latter group could be relied upon to purchase anything that seemed unreasonably inexpensive.
Belique felt that these last twelve were not perhaps the market she was aiming for. Not only that, but the first twelve seemed to be growing a little tired of her.
She pondered the issue and tried a few things. She experimented with the nude. Her work, ‘Still life,’ showed a naked woman, obviously dead drunk, sprawled on a bed, a litter of empty spirit bottles surrounding her. It was received well enough but took longer to sell that she had hoped. A larger piece, ‘The mourners’ did get a better reception. It showed the mourners after the funeral, drinking and cavorting with demons. It sold but for a disappointing price. Dispassionately she assessed the situation. She needed to relaunch her career, and she needed to do it with a bang.
She spoke to Hazand Halfwheel, who still owns the premier gallery in Port Naain. Together they discussed the possibility of a major exhibition. She would move into a new studio where she could work in secret. She would occasionally allow a few minor works to come onto the market. These the Halfwheel Gallery would sell. These works had two main purposes. They would remind people she still existed, and even more importantly, they would allow her to eat regularly.
Then, in a year’s time, the gallery would put on an exhibition composed entirely of her new work. Hazand had seen the preliminary sketches of what she had in mind and was entirely in agreement with her plans.
That year Belique worked as never before. The six minor works that the gallery sold were small pieces, atmospheric, done largely in washes and with a general feeling of gloom and uncertainty pervading them. Finally, amidst great secrecy, the new work was smuggled into the gallery and behind closed shutters the exhibition was prepared. The day before it was opened the critics were allowed in.
They were shocked and horrified. Three had to be carried out, almost prostrated with anger. There were over fifty new pieces and they loathed all of them. There were charming pictures of cottages; there were beautiful pictures of gardens. Floppy eared dogs carried baskets of cute kittens in their teeth. Pretty girls were pictured artlessly reading in flowery bowers.
There was outrage. The reviews in sundry publications went beyond damning. They were vitriolic, some were even venomous. A number managed to be rancorous and spiteful. A few were merely cruel.
The reviews had the expected result. There were queues outside the gallery waiting for it to open. By the end of the first day, virtually everything had been sold and Belique managed to restock it with works she had in hand. They all went the next day.
From then on she exhibited occasionally, Hazand Halfwheel continued to be her trusted ally and confident. But most of her works were sold direct from her studio. Nowadays you find her paintings in many places. Most of my patrons have at least one, but you see them hanging in the better tea shops, or in the waiting rooms of those medical practitioners who have a family practice. Indeed we even purchased one and had it hung behind the bar at the Misanthropes Hall. Every so often we get somebody from the University arts department in and given the amount of honest amusement we get from their fury and contempt, it is generally agreed that the painting was worth every dreg.
And now the hard sell!
OK so perhaps the not so hard sell. It’s just that this is part of a blog tour which is peering into the lives of Garrat Drane, and his lady wife Taffetia Drane. Now we are meeting their various offspring, delightful people and pillars of the community. Or perhaps not.
But still now is your chance to meet them and inadvertently you may discover their importance to our hero, Tallis Steelyard. He has his own blog at Tallis Steelyard.
But actually the purpose of this blog is to draw your attention to the fact that a new book has been published. ‘Tallis Steelyard: Six men in a boat.’
Rather than a collection of his anecdotes, this is indeed an ‘adventure’ as Tallis ventures forth from the city of Port Naain. Questions are asked that may even be answered, why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians? Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger? Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.
Treat yourself; you know you’re worth it!
About the author
Someone once wrote this about him:
“Jim Webster is probably still fifty something, his tastes in music are eclectic, and his dress sense is rarely discussed in polite society. In spite of this he has a wife and three daughters.
He has managed to make a living from a mixture of agriculture, consultancy, and freelance writing. Previously he has restricted himself to writing about agricultural and rural issues but including enough Ancient Military history to maintain his own sanity. But seemingly he has felt it necessary to branch out into writing fantasy and Sci-Fi novels.”
Now with eight much acclaimed fantasy works and two Sci-Fi to his credit it seems he may be getting into the swing of things.
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