BASSANO at the Ashmolean

Discovering Paintings : Jacopo Bassano the Elder.

Bassano the elder, Jacopo; Christ among the Doctors; The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology;

Bassano the elder, Jacopo; Christ among the Doctors; The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford.

This painting, in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, is large – and crowded – so crowded that it is difficult to get to grips with and understand what is going on and who are the many figures piled up on steps to an imposing building. I first saw the work when I was preparing to give a Gallery talk – trying to consider whether it was a work I might discuss with adults. After a few minutes of letting my eye wander around the work, my usual initial approach in selecting works to explain and discuss, I must admit that I was struck by the appearance of the rumbustious actor Brian Blessed on the left-hand side!! Ah!! – that would be a good start for exploration and discussion.
But what is the painting depicting? The title, as printed on the gallery label, states ‘Christ amongst the Doctors). I became aware donkeys years ago when school-teaching that the depicted subject was not readily understood – too often youngsters, and many adults, assumed that ‘Doctor’ meant a Medical Doctor. Of course the term refers to eminent scholars, Doctors of Theology or Philosophy – wise men (but not to be confused with the Wise Men of the Christmas Story).                                                                                  My usual method of teaching in my Art Appreciation Groups within art galleries is to get the students to visually explore the painting and offer up their comments for general discussion. Most of the groups begin to exchange their views – some more knowledgeable than others but usually producing a common view or opinion. In the case of this work things were getting off to a slow start – some saying, sometimes irritably, ‘of course that is Jesus in the Temple’ or similar relevant, accurate, comment. I agreed but then went on to ask whether everybody had really let their eyes wander round the whole painting – I encouraged them so to do for a few minutes. I then said, ‘ have you noticed the actor Brian Blessed?’ (in the bottom left of the painting). Things then took off!! The exploration began – of the images in the painting, on the historical background of the narrative portrayed, etc., etc.  Such sessions I fond most stimulating – and convinces me that this the approach I not only personally like but likes by a curious audience.

David Addison.  14th June 2021.

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Albert Rutherston


Rutherston, Albert; The Pump, Nash End; Tate;

Rutherston, Albert; The Pump, Nash End; Tate Gallery.

The name of the artist Albert Rutherston is not one that appears in most art histories but I have come to regard him as important to an understanding of British Art at the end of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century.                                                                                                                       So!! Who is ALBERT RUTHERSTON?  Born in Bradford to a wealthy Textile Merchant of German origin, family name Rothenstein, Albert had two brothers, Charles and William. During the run up to, and during, WW! many families with German sounding surnames changed their names – Charles and Albert decided to adopt a new surname – Rutherston.  William refused to abandon the historic family name of ‘Rothenstein’.  William and Albert went on to become artists whilst Charles became an important art collector.   Both Albert and William went on to the new and radical Slade School of Fine Art, recently created as part of University College, London.  They also both went on to become active members of the newly formed radical informal art group – the New English Art Club.  Max Beerbohm’s cartoon of members of the New English Art Club indicate the differing personalities of the brothers with William standing, pontificating, on top of a table with brother William under the table!!!!

The New English Art Club 1907 Sir Max Beerbohm 1872-1956 Purchased 1952

The New English Art Club 1907 Sir Max Beerbohm 1872-1956

Whilst William, quite rightly so, went on to become noted as a major figure in British Art of the twentieth century it seems Charles almost got forgotten. For me the realisation of the importance of Charles Rutherston came in a very surprising way. Wandering around a large garden centre near Oxford I came across, in the midst of garden equipment, a second-hand book ‘kiosk’ – on browsing the shelves I came across a slim hard-back book titled “Memoirs of an Art Student”, the author being Albert Rutherston!!!!!

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Memoirs of an Octogenarian : Toys.


My earliest memories of toys are of an annual sale of second-hand toys held just before Christmas in the war years at Bolton School – where my father was a teacher. In fact I do not remember the sales themselves but the fact that our Christmas presents were obtained at those sales by my parents. These sales were for teachers and parents and must have been the only chance for parents to obtain presents for their children as no toys were available in shops. Four such presents I remember well.                                                                                                    The first, in the early years, was a box of rubber building blocks – about the size as the much later Lego bricks – with an assortment of acrylic windows and doors. This provided endless hours of fun for the lengthy days and nights of the war, and could be quickly carried under our indoor, Morrison, bomb shelter (which also doubled as our table and was of heavy steel construction).


 The second was a O gauge steam train. This was more my father’s toy, and necessitated a lot of swearing and a strong smell of methylated spirits. The track that came with it was rather limited – only really producing a large circle around the table and with bends that were not always negotiated by this hissing fiery monster!

steam train (2)

The third present was a pedal fret-saw – which I thoroughly enjoyed. With off-cuts of ply-wood from the school’s Woodwork Department I produced a large number of painted Christmas Tree Decorations and the figures for an Advent Calendar (the original real religious calender).


Hobbies weekly 1

The fourth present I remember with fondness, and frustration, was a large cardboard box of miscellaneous Meccano pieces. Truth to tell I never really mastered Meccano and was always frustrated with the results, or lack of them!

After the war, in 1946, we moved to Suffolk where my father took up a post at the Grammar School in Ipswich. Toys were still scarce and new toys almost impossible to obtain. My parents must have trawled possible sources and came up with one of the first releases of Dinky toys – this one, from a pre-war mould, was of a Packard Saloon – painted in military green – marvellous. Dinky Toys

Also during the war we made our own simple toys out of scrap material. I well remember two such toys. The first, and the most popular for youngsters, were ‘tanks’ made out of an old cotton-reel of my mother’s, a slice of wax candle (candles were very common in households during the war), two matchsticks, and a rubber-band. One wound these up and let them go to pursue their erratic way across the floor. The second was to make small swords out of pins and wire insulation – many a sword fight during those years!
Thinking of cotton reels, I think my sister became expert in ‘French knitting’ – a craft which defeated me!

French Knitting

It was some years before toys arrived back in shops to any great extent – raw materials were still scarce until well into the 1950’s.  My next step was, with a friend of mine, to be into ‘bikes’ – but we could not afford new ones so we became friendly with a local bicycle shop who not only sold bikes but also repaired them.  We were allowed to trawl his workshop and assemble bikes from the various old bits and pieces on the, rather untidy, shelves. We learnt all about frames (Reynolds and Accles & Pollock double-butted tubing, etc.), how to assemble derailleur gears, and test the merits of dropped handlebars as opposed to the traditional forms.  Toys were then not in my scheme of things again until my own children came along – and that was a different world and a different story.

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Memoirs of an Octogenerian : Outdoor toilets.

From childhood to early adulthood the experience of toilet provision loomed large in my life – or, rather, the lack of it!  I still regard ‘going to the loo’ as something which is something you get over as quickly as possible – and I am amazed at how long younger generations now spend in such accommodation. They too are amazed when I tell them of the, quite recent, days before indoor flushing toilets and dedicated lavatory paper.  My own, often uncomfortable, memories include the ‘potty’ under the bed, the outdoor bucket lavatory, flushing mechanisms which rarely seemed to work, and the carefully cut-up newspaper before the invention of, uncomfortable, ‘toilet paper’.                                                                                                                  I am reminded of a short ditty that my father used to recite :- ‘What is the difference between a rich man, a poor man, and a dead man ; a rich man has a canopy over his bed, a poor man has a can of pee under his bed, and a dead man canna pee at all’                                                                                  What a younger generation do not realise is that there was a civilised world before the universal provision of running water and indoor toilets. Even in the 1970’s staying in a B&B in London on visits in connection with my job as a provincial museum curator meant having, in the middle of the night, having to find the only toilet in some remote corridor (and before the days of central heating). If there was a wash basin in the room (no hot tap) then that could provide a possible solution. But I digress!

There is no coherence in these ramblings – just plucking out of memory particular things which I remember in a world where outside lavatories, perhaps shared by the whole street, was the norm – or when flushing was not part of the story.

Outdoor toilet 1

An outside privy – I remember these when we moved to remote rural Suffolk – but ours was different being much cleaner and being a ‘Three holer’ not like the one pictured above. In ours the walls were pristine whitewash and the seat in beautiful polished mahogany (with lids to each hole). The large bucket beneath held a mixture of water and a disinfectant and chemical with, I think, the trade name ELSAN.  The buckets had to be emptied about once a week – which was a task my father and I were delegated to undertake. We went into an adjoining field (ours) and tipped it carefully into a large pit – which was surrounded by very verdant foliage!!                                                  In towns the provision was different – usually an outside privy with a flush toilet.

Oudoor toilet 2

In town terraces there was usually a group of such toilets at the end of the terrace but semi-detached town cottages usually began to have one of their own – I remember my girl-friend’s house in Ipswich had such as did my Grandparents in Sheffield.   Bitterly cold and with cut squares of the local newspaper hanging off a hook!    Even as late as 1960 when my new wife and I took up residence in a Village School House at Wetheringsett, where my wife had been appointed Head Teacher, the toilet was outside and doubled up as the staff toilet for the school.  After some argument with the School Governors an indoor toilet was provided, along with another ‘modern’ convenience, a bath.


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