Monday, August 15, 2016

Wait for Me! -- Modern Art

A continuing series of Neels-ian excerpts from the autobiography ("Wait for Me!") of Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire:

In summer 1929 Tom took part in an art hoax at Diana and Bryan's London house in Buckingham Street. Two hundred people were invited to meet the self-taught 'artist', Bruno Hat, who came from somewhere in Germany. Brian Howard, the poet, and the artist John Banting produced a series of works on cork bathmats framed with rope--pictures of extraordinary ugliness, forerunners of the kind of thing we are asked to admire today. Evelyn Waugh wrote an introduction to the catalog, "An Approach to Hat", and the party was a great success...Bruno Hat was in poor health but managed to make an appearance. Pushed in a wheelchair and muffled in scarves, he wore a black mustache and tinted glasses. After uttering a few words of an unknown dialect in guttural growls he was unmasked as Tom, who stepped out of the chair, threw off the coat, mustache and specs, delighted with the success of the joke. (In 2009 one of Bruno Hat's pictures sold at auction for 18,000 pounds--I wish we had kept an outhouse full of them.)

I can just see Veronica showing up dressed to kill, having dragged her busy fiance from his copy of the latest Lancet. She would be dismayed to find that mousy girl from the village there, eyeing the art with nothing like the right attitude, and more dismayed to find out that her fiance drove her home.


  1. Ha ha ha! Thank you for sharing. What a great hoax! :o)
    I found an article that has all the information, including part of the hilariously important sounding introduction to the catalogue! (in the link to Still life with pears, below)

    Bruno Hat: Adorarion of the Magi
    by John Banting (1902 – 1972)
    Inscribed lower left verso Bruno July 1929

    Still live with pears – to see another work of Bruno Hat and read all about the hoax
    click here
    The show opened on July 23 1929 at Bryan Guinness' house at 10 Buckingham Street, London SW1, advance information having been leaked to the press. Lady Eleanor Smith was suitably duped when she reported in the Sunday Despatch:
    BRUNO HAT. What will be almost a cocktail party, is the private view of the exhibition of paintings by Bruno Hat to be held in London next week. Bruno Hat is a painter of German extraction, and his work is mainly of the abstract type, seemingly derivative from Picasso and De Chirico. But the queer thing is that his work is not derived from any painter - he was discovered by Mr.Bryan Guinness near Clymping. Bryan Guinness went into a village general store, and entering by mistake the wrong room, he found a number of very good paintings in the modern French style. The paintings were done by the son of the old lady who keeps the store. His father was a German, and he paints quite naturally thus without ever having been to Paris. In fact he has only been to London about twenty times in his life, being very shy and retiring. So good were the paintings that they are to be on exhibition at Mr.Bryan Guinness' house in Westminster. I have seen one or two and they are surprisingly clever.

    Buckingham Street was built before 1680 by Nicholas Barbon London’s first speculative builder. What makes this little unprepossessing street so unique are the sheer number of celebs who once lived here, so many that a whole series of that unlamented television series ‘Through The Keyhole’ could be devoted to these twenty-one houses. [...]

    According to The London Encyclopaedia a Who’s Who of Buckingham Street has among its former residents:
    Number 10: Was once home to Scottish philosopher and Father of the Enlightenment David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, later postimpressionist painter Henri Rousseau resided there as did Thomas Russell Crampton, engineer who laid the first submarine cable between Dover and Calais.

    Among the celebrities who lived on Buckingham Street: Pepys, Dickens...

    Google Streetview 10 Buckingham Street

  2. I was - almost - a little bit shocked when I read this in Emma's Wedding, the other day. ;o)

    'Good morning,' said Emma. 'You are advertising for an assistant for two evenings a week. I should like to apply for the job.'
    The severe lady eyed her. She said shortly, 'My name is Miss Johnson. Are you experienced?'
    'No, Miss Johnson, but I like books. I have A levels in English Literature, French, Modern Art and Maths. I am twenty-seven years old and I have lived at home since I left school. I have come here to live with my mother and I need a job.'