:: Ned Potter


Ernest Walbourn: a coda

Friday, March 5th, 2021

This is the 7th and last post about the landscape painter Ernest Walbourn. 

We still haven’t visited Dinan to track down the remaining pictures from 1923 but we do sometimes get out the box of photos from the period. Inevitably, the ones you really want to see have faded back into history. Those that survive still give an impression of a comfortable bourgeois life between the wars – family holidays, boating, tennis parties, gardening, and formal family portraits. There are also shots of Ernest at work, often at the same easel Peter would use long after his death, and on which a large unfinished Ernest is now perched, conveniently hiding our tv. Here is the great man at work:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He was also a bit of a sportsman. We have a letter of March 1897 from the captain of a hockey team referring to his prowess as a goal keeper (with the added advantage of being able to sing and play the banjo). He was invited to join the Olympic shooting team; we have a letter from a committee member reassuring colleagues worried about letting in someone familiar with a gun who would rather paint pheasants than shoot them, that even though he was an artist he was a gentleman.

This is Ernest’s wife Eva, a successful artist in her own right, especially as a painter of flowers and gardens, patronised by no less than Queen Mary herself. She sometimes painted Ernest’s backgrounds for him, and the picture on her easel here looks more like one of his.

There’s a small family album with pictures of holidays and various sporting activities. There was lots of cricket and golf…

And plenty of tennis…

Eva (left), Peter (right) and next to him Gwen (Penny’s Mum)

…and inter-generational amateur dramatics:

L to R: Gwen, Peter, Eva, Peter’s elder brother Dick

The bottom right snap from the album above is Ernest’s house and studio backing onto Epping Forest. Peter inherited the Victorian statue on the plinth in the foreground and it stood in his garden for many years until it was vandalised, the lady only surviving from the waist upwards. Her remains now rest atop a salvaged piece of York Minster West window in our little courtyard:

The ornate pot in the shot of the family practicing putting in the garden has followed us from house to house, increasingly battered:

They loved boats and fishing, Peter becoming a keen fisherman as an adult and his brother Derek a world class sailor, returning to the land of his forefathers many times to take part in the Sydney-Hobart race.

This is Derek, Peter (with cap) and  Eva with Ernest wielding rod in one hand and a pipe in the other. We think this is around the time of the Brittany trip when Peter would have sat at the feet of his father, learning his craft. Fifteen years later the boy who drew trains, cars and views of the French countryside was called up as a war artist and sketched planes and pilots. We don’t know what happened to his official work (it included a portrait of General Smuts) but we have a folio of sketches of off-duty airmen listening to concerts, drinking copious amounts of tea or just lounging around enjoying the beautiful landscape in which he always seemed to be posted.

He had a good war, some of it in Cortina with his leg in plaster after a skiing accident, and with time to paint views of Venice and castles on the Austria-Italy border.  In the fifties he became a commercial artist (one of the models draped over the bonnet in a Hillman Minx ad is his daughter, now my wife) and finally a portrait painter. We have another folio of photos of his many paintings of judges, company chairmen, their wives, horses and dogs.

His greatest triumph was painting the Queen Mum for the Middle Temple. After a sitting he needed more time to get the detail of her jewellery right, so she suggested he take it home. Is it insured, Peter asked, somewhat alarmed. We couldn’t possibly afford to insure it, came her majesty’s reply. Penny’s mum slept with the Queen Mum’s brooch under her pillow to be on the safe side.

The spirits of Ernest and Peter are still with us. Our son Ned, Peter’s grandson and Ernest’s great grandson, was able to begin a conference in Capetown  by cross fading Ernest’s sketch (now on his wall) with a modern photo of the same view, and on a similar working trip to Sydney saw the site of the church in which he thought (mistakenly as we now know!) his forebears got married more than two centuries ago. Peter worked at Ernest’s easel all his life, before passing it on to Penny:

and when we’re not watching tv we can watch an Ernest, still sitting on the easel and awaiting his attention.