Mr K thrives at the sharp end of modern art – so sharp indeed is his end that he disdains to wear a beard and furthermore claims Nunhead as the new Shoreditch.
Be that as it may, I invited him to join me at the Tatler’s Waste-Bin in order that he should put to the company his notion that ‘95% of art is product’. Captain Ken, who can be relied upon to examine a fact, regarded the claim as ripe with ambiguity and would have little to do with it. Did he mean that 95% of so-called art is not art? Or did he mean that in order to be regarded as genuine, 95% of an artist’s work should be product? Mr K was happy to leave us to puzzle his meaning, but for a student of Capability Brown such as myself, there was a little smack of pedantry in Captain Ken’s complaint. The good Captain, who is of Celtic extraction, has had ‘no luck with the fishing’, as he likes to put it, and might be excused on that account.
So I remember Tom Eliot saying that one of the marks of a great poet is that he produces a great deal of poetry, and the same holds for any artist. It has been said that an amateur violinist only has to do something well once to be satisfied, a professional has to do it every time. If Brown had only produced one great landscape, no matter how weird an wonderful, would we be as interested in his work as we are? Surely he made his case stronger because he kept making it, all over the country and over more than thirty years?
The subject came up with Mr K as we considered the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia, where it feels as though every third painting is a rosy-nippled nude of more than nubile proportions, and one senses that Dr Barnes had asked Renoir for paintings and Renoir had obliged by turning out a container load, hardly able to believe his luck in finding such a ready market for endless treatments of the same idea.
These late pictures of Renoir’s might be regarded as fancy works, created solely to satisfy a market, but it is not possible to churn out such repetitive ‘fancy’ works in the English landscape style, when so much depends on the situation in which the work is to be done.