Life is full of surprises. This post is about a surprise that has taken me a long time to discover.
I know – that sentence is not immediately self-explanatory, so I hope you will stick with me on this as I peel back the layers for you. Let me establish the subject matter. The story is about two paintings separated in distance by the maximum available on this planet. England and New Zealand – you cannot actually get much further apart physically – and the story is only partially about Rugby. Intrigued? I hope you are.
I was lucky enough to be able to persuade Fatima that she would love to go on honeymoon to New Zealand for a few weeks when we got married in 2011.The fact that those weeks coincided with the 2011 Rugby World Cup was simply a happy chance and it would be a shame to waste the tickets I had already bought before we got to the point where I asked for her hand in marriage. There is just a longer lead time on buying World Cup tickets than for arranging a wedding and a honeymoon.
Anyway we both really enjoyed our extended honeymoon and Fatima also managed to enjoy the rugby too, but this story is about paintings and not rugby, as I said. For the latter part of the tournament we stayed in the small town of Warkworth, north of Auckland. And just a short walk away from the house where we were staying was a park where they had a small rural life museum. So, naturally we went and moseyed around the museum one day as part of our tourist activity in between matches.
It was a pleasant morning, a pleasant walk and a relaxing wander around several rooms of well laid out small town curiosities, including a number of paintings and photographs donated by various local families over the years. As I turned a corner into one of the rooms I stood transfixed. There on the wall was a painting that recalled to my mind a picture I had lived with all of my life. It had hung in the hallway of the house where I was born and grew up near Lincoln, England.
The picture from my childhood, which had eventually found its way into my home, sometimes hanging on the wall and sometimes spending time in the loft, had been painted by a great- uncle – Will D`Arcy – who had been a lace designer in Nottingham. Actually he was cousin to my great-grandmother and he was born in 1871. It seems possible I met him when I was a small child in the 1950s – I understand he visited our house with other family members from Nottingham and I have a vague memory of a man with an unruly shock of very white hair. Something of a larger than life figure, but I suppose everybody seems `larger than life` when you are only 5 or 6.
The picture, as you will see below, is of four very large poppy flowers in a floral arrangement with some spiky leaves as well as the normal poppy leaves. It is between 2 foot 6 inches to 3 feet tall and about ten inches across as far as I can recall. Please hang on to those words “as far as I can recall” and I will explain them later.
So, there I was in New Zealand, facing a picture I was sure I recognised but without being able to check whether my memory was hazy and it was just vaguely similar, or whether I was correct that it was exactly similar. Puzzling about it, I searched out the curator of the museum to ask him what he knew of this fascinating exhibit.
It had no signature to prove who may have painted it and sadly the curator knew very little of its provenance, except that it had been donated by a local family at some time in the last 20 years or so. I took a photograph of it with a view to comparing it with my family heirloom when we eventually got home to England.
Now we hit the first complication. We had decided that since I was retired and Fatima was still working, I would join her in Brazil for a while and rent my UK house out for an unspecified period. Probably it would be for a minimum of two years, after which time we would review our arrangements and either extend the period of living in Brazil or maybe move back to the UK.
So I could not immediately compare my photograph of the NZ painting with my family heirloom to satisfy my curiosity and I parked the issue in a corner of my mind, getting on with life, the rugby, my new marriage and eventually life in Brazil, some of which you may already have read about in these posts.
Then we hit the second complication. As you will know if you have followed my occasional Blogs, I returned to England back in June of this year and within a few days of taking back residence of my house here I discovered that all the stuff I had sent for storage in Lincoln had ended up being sold at auction (see several posts above for details). This was so traumatic a discovery that the possibility of comparing a photo with an actual painting had rather faded from my consciousness. Except to say, I rather thought the original painting was probably still in the loft and I would get round to checking it out when things became a bit more normal.
When I did eventually get around to climbing up into the loft I made the discouraging discovery that the Poppy painting of my great uncle D`Arcy was not in the loft after all and must therefore have been packed up and sent off to Barnes for storage. That being the case, it had gone the way of everything else and been sold off for peanuts in a house clearance sale.
In the meantime I had managed to identify which auction house had sold some of my stuff and even found pictures of quite a few items I knew to be mine in online-back-catalogues of Unique Auctions based in Lincoln. I had not found everything I knew to be missing and I certainly had not found the Poppy painting at that time.
Eventually after being pressed hard, Barnes sent a detailed summary of the items which had appeared in various lots in various auctions dated from early May through until June 10th – ironically my birthday, but who`s counting? Recently I have been going through each and every item, checking the price achieved at auction against its real value measured by a number of yardsticks. Too busy, really, to pay specific attention to one picture among many which have disappeared, except to say it is priceless, as a family heirloom, whatever its financial value.
But, this week, I have just found time to examine the photograph of my family heirloom with its Lot number stuck on it, against the photograph of the painting in New Zealand. As you can see below the two pictures are, almost, identical, but having now spent some time staring at them side by side it looks to me as though the NZ painting is a copy, by a possibly slightly less skilled artist (or great Uncle Will, painting in a hurry?) and left unsigned.
Uncle Will`s painting did, I understand, appear in an exhibition in London in the early years of the 20th Century and I am now embarking on some detective work to find out exactly where and when. But it seems likely that it was on display long enough for someone to go and paint an exact replica of a floral arrangement that they found appealing. Or it may be that Uncle Will was commissioned to paint a replica for someone who then emigrated to New Zealand, to the town of Warkworth a little way north of Auckland.
What are the odds that Will D`Arcy`s first cousin three times removed would one day visit the very town where his painting`s twin now hangs splendidly, amongst a host of other local curiosities in a quiet little backwater museum of rural life and stand transfixed by sheer surprise. It really is uncanny, a bizarre, yet intriguing coincidence in the weft of the tapestry of life.
If anyone out there in Blog-reading land knows where my original Will D`Arcy painting ended up or can explain how its doppelganger ended up in Warkworth I would really love to hear from you. Send a comment to my Blog and I will get in touch with you to hear all about it. I can`t wait to hear from you. I would so love to return the painting to a place of honour in my home.
The picture on the right is Uncle Will D`Arcy`s original and the picture on the left is the New Zealand twin which hangs in Warkworth.