Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A wild goose chase?

In 1954, when rebuilding my recently-bought bombed-out house in the Fulham Road, London, I completed two large (2’ x 4’) paintings of Chelsea Football Ground.
The subject was a fairly obvious one at the time as my house (less the original top floor, as I didn’t have enough money to rebuild it) stood right beneath the supporting wall of a stand at the southern end of the ground.
The local district then was an artistic one, with studios all around, the Italian Village and, a stone’s throw away, where Henri Gaudier-Brzeska had lived in penury.
One of my two paintings was of a corrugated, part cover, of a stand at one end of the ground. It was titled “Neighbours on Saturdays” (football was only played on Saturdays at that time). The other was “Chelsea v. Wolves. Sillet’s Penalty Goal. Jubilee Year”.
The former picture I tried to sell for £36, and failed – even when it was exhibited at a smart West End gallery. The latter work found a ready buyer who worked with me on the house. He was probably a plasterer or electrician. I sold it to him for £5. I recall that I had forgotten to paint in some vital part of the scene. So I added it for him.
I retained the grandstand painting, and at one time was about to give it as a wedding present, but the proposed union came to nought.
A Christie’s expert in the field of English 20th century painting (James Gould) saw the painting and suggested that I sell it at his auction rooms. Why not?
The corrugated part cover of the stand depicted in the painting became known as “the shed”. And that end of the ground is still known as “the shed end”. So the painting was re-titled “The Shed, Chelsea Football Ground”. It had considerable provenance added, and sold for £28,000 (the buyer having to pay Christie’s £30,600).
By this time I had already started to paint again, after a writing break of 27 years, and had become interested in both recording past works in the form of a collection of photographs in an album, and listing items of my art sold privately, by galleries, or at auction.
Among the private buyers listed, I found that my second football painting had been bought by Thomas Young, Stafford Mansions, Battersea. I decided to try to track down the picture.
After a gap of some 50 years the chance of finding Mr. Young and/or the painting would be pretty remote. But I not only wanted to see it again, to photograph it and, if possible (should I tell him about the Christie’s sale?), even offer to buy it back.
No amount of computer searching on the Internet came up with anything that might help me in my quest. So I referred to my large-scale map of London, located Battersea, and a Police Station where I might obtain information. I set off. Surely the police would know the whereabouts, past or present, of Stafford Mansions.
It was cold, wet and windy when I located the station, but it appeared to have been closed for some time. So I thought that a publican or someone like the driver of a cab or minicab might be of help. So I set off once more.
Beneath the insalubrious surroundings of railway arches, light industry and heavy traffic, I entered a pub, and ordered beer and lamb’s liver. I sat down near to a distinguished-looking gentleman, of possibly mixed sexual orientation, who was reading a newspaper and enjoying a pint. He was rather too smart to be in a pub like this one, and looked a little out of place.
I asked him if he was local (having seen that his newspaper was a Battersea one). He was. Yes, he knew Stafford Mansions, and recommended a long walk to it through the park. But a bus would be quicker – and warmer. I took the bus. To have spoken with a knowledgeable local was my first stroke of luck.
Map reading my way then to Albert Bridge Road, and walking along it toward the bridge and River Thames, STAFFORD MANSIONS stood in a row among a lot of other red brick Edwardian buildings.
Now came my next piece of good fortune. Leaving the building were two gentlemen, who were obviously good friends.
“Do you know, I asked, “if anyone called Young lived in their block?”
The answer was “No”. In fact, they had been lived there for 35 years and no one of that name had been a resident to their knowledge.
They were sorry to be of no help. The two left to walk down the street, with the elderly one running his fingers through his grey hair, saying that his name was not Young but he felt and hoped that he looked young.
So there we are. Somewhere, hanging on some unknowingly lucky person’s wall, is that £5 painting. Will it ever, do you think, re-surface?