Your columnist is no art expert, though he likes recycling his favourite line of criticism occasionally. (When the King of France viewed Géricault’s painting The Raft of the Medusa, he remarked: “M. Géricault, your shipwreck is no disaster.” Kudos to anyone who can mail me the name of the band which used Géricault’s painting on an album cover.)
However, my interest was piqued by news from Sotheby’s last week, where Cork Bowler by Gabriel Hayes, from the collection of Eddie Jordan, was sold for €94,949 (against a reserve of €33,900–€56,500, incidentally), to a US buyer.
In the painting a bowler is about to begin his run-up, the bowl resting easily in his right hand, his shirt loose and open, the trousers a good pointer to dating the painting’s composition to the 1940s.
Séamus Ó Tuama of this parish, and doyen of bowling scribes, was frank about the sale, described the sale as a shame: “It’s a pity this sale wasn’t flagged ahead of time, because it’s a really interesting picture.
“It’s called Cork Bowler — but it’s a Limerick bowler, for one thing — but I also found it interesting that the figure in it isn’t actually bowling.
“Most sporting images are of a person scoring a try, catching a ball, getting a score — but in this painting he’s preparing to throw the bowl rather than actually throwing it, engaging in the sport. My daughter pointed out it was a little like Degas’ practising ballerinas, and she was right.
“When you think of it, sportspeople spend more time preparing and practising than actually performing their sport. When they’re playing their sport, if you take one of the team sports, how much time do they actually spend with the ball in their possession?
Of course, once we started digging, Seamus pointed out the painting started to reveal more and more — about the sport, and about the time when it was painted.
“The painting dates from the 40s, when the state was only a couple of decades old, and there was uncertainty about how everything was going to turn out, where Ireland was going to go.
“On that score, the bowl player is dressed very casually — he’s clearly got his working pants on, his shirt is open. But at that time, if you were a bowler at any kind of a score, you’d be in your Sunday best. You’d want to present a certain image of yourself.
“And if you look at the photographs of scores from the time, you’ll see that not only are the players in their Sunday best, so are all the spectators — top coats, shirts and ties. It’s an occasion.
“But this guy in the painting is dressed as though he’s just coming out of the farmyard at the end of the day’s work, he’s still in his working clothes — but he’s preparing to do something.
“We don’t know how it’s going to go for him, whether he’ll end up with the bowl in the ditch or he’ll break records — and it’s the same with the Ireland of the time. How is it going to work out?”
It’s a pity, then, that the painting is bound for the States. As Seamus pointed out, if we’d known ahead of time about the sale, something could have been done. There’s a precedent for this kind of thing, after all.
“There’s a painting in the Crawford Gallery in Cork,
The Bowling Match At Castlemary, Cloyne, by Daniel McDonald.
“When that came up for sale, Bol Chumann na hÉireann and Murphy’s Brewery came together and bought it for the Crawford. I think the same thing could have happened here if it had been flagged, we could have organised something.
“Given Eddie Jordan’s status as a sportsperson — perhaps he didn’t realise its significance, but it’s a shame it’s no longer in Ireland, unless the person who bought it is the kind of generous benefactor who would send it our way, but I don’t know.”
Seamus made his points well, and the loss of a painting like that is all the sharper because there wasn’t a chance to retain it.
The effect of that kind of image fulfils one of the imperatives Cork poet Greg Delanty identified years ago: “It’s not just to witness such shenanigans for themselves, but to be relieved from whatever lurks in our day’s background.”
The poem of Delanty’s that comes from? After Viewing The Bowling Match at Castlemary, Cloyne
Ah, those last desperate hours when a book is near completion. Corrections! Counter-corrections! Spellings! Names!
It can be a very fraught time. Very fraught.
Which is why I have some sympathy for Joe Schmidt’s memoir, which has —to pursue the shipwreck theme deployed elsewhere on this page — entered choppy waters.
Not so much for the substance of the book, I note, but for one of his epigraphs.
This is tricky territory for a writer, because the competition is steep. For instance, Graham Greene had a classic epigraph for The Human Factor which he lifted from Conrad (“I only know that he who forms a tie is lost; the germ of corruption has entered into his soul.”). The one he borrowed from Péguy for The Heart of the Matter is up there too (“No one is as competent as the sinner in Christian affairs. No one, except the saint.”)
Alongside those distillations of the human condition one of Joe’s efforts looks paticularly underwhelming.
“Who we are is how we play.” From Vodafone Ireland.
As I say, it’s a very fraught time.
I note that the son of Rudolph Giuliani works in the White House. According to The Atlantic, he is paid $90,700 (approximately €82,000) to work in the public liaison office.
The sources used by The Atlantic said he helps to arrange sports teams’ visits to the White House, with one former senior staffer saying: “He doesn’t really try to be involved in anything, he’s just having a nice time.”
Other sources pointed out that because he is one of the better golfers in the White House, Giuliani sometimes travels with President Donald Trump in order to play golf with him.
Enjoy your coffee this morning on your way to work.
I know that the holiday season is bearing down on us like . . . like an iceberg approaching an unsinkable ocean liner, but please don’t take this as a hamfisted suggestion for a Christmas present.
Simon Heffer’s books of history have always been on the money, but Staring At God looks an all-timer. It chronicles life in Britain between the shooting of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and addresses diverse matters that are slightly to the side of the main focus (World War One.) As such it seems engineered directly to appeal to yours truly — in particular the reference in some reviews to an unsympathetic depiction of Lloyd George.
To the bookshop!