I recent trip to Buckland Abbey, the home of Sir Francis Drake, left me asking about the nature of experts and just how qualified they really are to offer their opinions. The National Trust, who own Buckland Abbey inherited the painting as one of a group of five from the estate of the late Lady Samuel of Wych Cross. The portrait is clearly that of Rembrandt, his features are instantly recognisable, but it was thought that it was by one of his pupils, such as Govaert Flinck, rather than
by the master himself. I assume that attribution was made by experts in the field. However further inspection by the Rembrandt expert and former chair of the Rembrandt Research project led to the NT allowing the painting to be subject by the Hamilton Kerr Institute. They used the latest scientific techniques to establish the painting was contemporary with the artist, and the panel was made of a wood available to him, as well as the paint comprising pigments he worked with. But does that point to anything more than the portrait coming from the studio of Rembrandt. Further work on the painting involved taking it out of its frame and careful cleaning allowed the expert, Professor Ernst van de Wetering to examine it closely. He now says and no one is disagreeing with him that he believes the painting is by the master. What has changed. Certainly cleaning has enhanced the painting. The use of light coming over the shoulder is skilful. Shadows concentrate the viewer’s gaze onto the eyes of the subject, and they look out at the observer with real intelligence. The velvet cloak looks as if it would be so soft to touch. But why didn’t previous examination of the painting see the quality of the work? Surely experts would know the effect the process of ageing would have on any painting, wouldn’t they? I don’t understand why the change of heart in less than four years. Still it is a wonderful portrait whoever painted it, and well worth the visit to Buckland Abbey.
Sometimes when I am out walking my dog, I see something that makes me laugh and this week a little girl called Lydia had me in stitches. She was walking along a track on Woodbury Common, a large stretch of open land that has great views of the sea. We were following the little figure, I guess she was about three, as she toddled along following her Dad, her older sister and their two dogs. Lydia, I knew her name because her Dad was shouting to her to hurry up as the rest of the family were way out in front of her. She was not to be hurried. Dressed in pink from head to toe, pink
Wellington boots with yellow butterflies, pink over trousers and a pink mac she was determined to paddle through the pools of water that lay along the path. At each puddle and there were quite a lot of them, she stood arms outstretched like birds wings, waited for a second or so and then leapt into the air only to come down with both feet firmly in the water. She laughed and giggled as the water splashed up around her, her blond hair flying in the wind. It didn’t matter how many times her father called her, she repeated the action at each stretch of water she came to, until one of the dogs, a puppy called Polly vanished into the undergrowth, followed by the elder daughter, Emma. At that point, father gave up waiting for her; he ran back to Lydia and grabbed her under his arm before running off in the direction Emma and the puppy had gone. We heard him calling for the dog for quite a while but didn’t see them again. The picture of Lydia thrusting herself feet first into those puddles kept me laughing most of the day.
I have just finished reading The Children Act by Ian McEwan and it has made me think about how lawyers are described in fiction. The immediate names that come to mind are Tulkinghorn from Bleak House, Dickens’ masterpiece about the law, incidentally a novel that was on the reading list when I first began to study law at the University of Sheffield, Soames Forsyte from John Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga’s and Rumpole, John Mortimer’s delicious character. Tulkinghorn and Soames Forsyte are both solicitors and are rather dry characters, brooding over wills and conveyances in dingy offices. In Bleak House the lawyers are the villains of the novel, in an interminable legal action
In Bleak House the lawyers are the villains of the novel, in an interminable legal action Jarndyce and Jarndyce which only comes to a conclusion when all the money in the estate has been used in paying legal bills. Tulkinghorn is a manipulative lawyer who glories in the power he has over his clients as he learns their secrets.
Soames Forsyte is equally unimaginative and scheming as he tries to control his wife who he sees as his property as indeed women were until the Married Woman’s Property Act of 1882 which gave women the right to own property in their own names. The series of novels by John Galsworthy were written between 1906 and 1921 when that independence had taken root. Soames is obsessed with property and considers his wife as just another chattel. He is a cold character with little to commend him to the reader.
On the other hand John Mortimer by creating Rumpole as a caricature of the people around him at the Bar, some of whom are recognisable to me from my own career, has created a likeable rogue. Put upon by his wife, she who must be obeyed and his colleagues who he always gets the better of in the end, most readers enjoy reading about him.
In The Children Act, the main character is Fiona Maye, a High Court Judge in the Family Division who hears a case which involves the refusal of medical treatment. McEwan has written with great elegance about the reasoning HH Judge Maye uses to arrive at her decision. The character has her own private sorrows but as Tessa Hadley says in her review of the novel in The Guardian, nothing in the character’s life is as interesting as the legal arguments. In my own experience, this is true my own difficulties always seemed so petty compared with the troubles my clients face. It is perhaps the reason that writing giving a lawyer the main role in a novel is so difficult.