Laying Down The Law: Natasha Law

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I had the pleasure of meeting Natasha Law a few years ago and profiled her for Artists & Illustrators.

Having recently moved in to her south London studio, the decorators’ brushes and paint pots lying around suggested that Natasha Law was doing a bit of DIY renovation. But these are, in fact, the tools of her trade, with which she creates her signature semi-clothed, cropped and fragmented nudes.

IMG_0154Law’s work requires a complex, time-consuming process. She usually starts with modelling sessions in which she photographs and draws her sitters. The resulting line drawings are projected onto aluminium sheets, and she then decides the colour scheme and how to crop the image. Having used board originally, nowadays she applies gloss paint to aluminium, like Gary Hume – “I always loved his work,” she says.

The last and most difficult part of the process starts when she applies the colours onto the aluminium panel. Multiple layers are necessary to produce the bold colours, and each layer requires long hours of drying, sanding and repainting. It doesn’t help that she “keeps having changes of mind about colour…”

Law’s choice of material, as well her subject, evokes the aesthetic of Pop Art. Her flat, bold block colours are reminiscent of Tom Purvis’ posters and Tom Wesselmann’s nudes. Her celebrity clients, connections in the fashion world, and bright artworks recall Andy Warhol. The Factory in Peckham, perhaps? “I wish!” Her drawings are also minimalist in style: “I like the idea of reducing shapes and colours. I think of them as a still-life.” Photography influences her work, and she cites Ryan McGinley, Terry Richardson and Juërgen Teller as favourites.

Big Sister

Born in 1970, Natasha is the older sister of the actor Jude Law. “I don’t fully appreciate how famous he is,” she admits. “It always seemed to help with the press coverage, though the work and shows went on regardless. But I realised that papers had the hook with the ‘Jude Law’s sister’ story in brackets. I can’t knock it, even if it has a risky side, too. We’re linked together and the press might turn against one or the other.”

She studied History at Warwick University, graduating in 1992, and then travelled in India, where she will be holding a show in November with Natasha Kissell, who is also on the books at Eleven Fine Art. She speaks highly of Eleven’s Charlie Phillips: “He’s been in charge of me for five or six years. He takes a backseat and knows how I work, and when to rush me or not. You get to know each other after a while!” Many of her previous New York shows were curated by Blair Clarke, who continues to take US-based commissions on behalf of Natasha.

Having done art at school, “It was shuttered for a bit, but I got back into it in India.” After her travels, Law studied graphic art at Camberwell College of Arts in South London before becoming involved with fashion illustration when she designed a catwalk show invitation for her then-sister-in-law Sadie Frost in 2002: “After graduating, you grab things, and a lot of things evolved without any hard and fast plan…I fell into set building.”

She is old enough (or rather, young enough) to have been part of the “Frieze” or “YBA” generation, but she came to art too late to be part of that zeitgeist. “I did the history degree first, which meant that I was never going to be at art college at the same time as the Britart crowd, but they were definitely that bit older…They seemed a different generation, really. I’m a pretty solitary person anyway – I don’t like groups or movements, so it was far more likely that I’d be painting in isolation… Painting is such an isolated job, isn’t it?”

Lip gloss

Natasha has had a long collaboration with the FrostFrench label, designing everything from prints to show sets. (FrostFrench went bust at the end of July 2008). Lou Lou and Law is a fashion-design partnership with London designer Ann Louise Roswald, which Natasha says is “mooching along!” Roswald says of her partner, “I don’t know how she juggles everything – her three kids, her illustrations, working with me – but somehow she does and she’s a total breath of fresh air with it.”

Having designed book covers for chick lit novels, she says, “I seem to have cornered the market in break-up novels!” She has done cover designs for Penguin and Macmillan, among others: “There’s a security to it, in that you are often working to a set brief.” She calls this illustrative work “my side-income,” and would like “to narrow the divide between illustration and the boldness and the chunkiness of the paintings.”

“Gloss has fulfilled my needs and intentions,” she says. “It’s quite sculptural, with some relief qualities.” By 2010, though, apparently all household paints will be acrylic rather than gloss – “so I need to stock up or start exploring new ideas.”


Natasha Law was born in 1970 and educated at Warwick University and Camberwell College of Arts. She has had sell-out exhibitions in London and New York, and her work appears regularly in The Sunday Times “Style” section. She is married to scriptwriter Finton Ryan, whose credits include the BBC dramas Party Animals and Hustle. A typical gloss on aluminium work by Law costs up to £6,000.

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Georgia on my mind

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With the recent terrible floods in Tbilisi in mind, I am publishing this brief overview of Georgian wine. I really hope that the city recovers quickly and that this beautiful country continues to warmly welcome visitors.

Jean Chardin (1643-1713), who travelled extensively in Eastern Europe and Asia, wrote of Georgia, “There is no country where they drink more or better wine”. Pushkin preferred Georgian wine to Burgundy.

Winemaking is deeply embedded in Georgian culture. Children’s schoolbooks show the grape harvest. The 20-metre high Kartlis Deda, or Mother Georgia, statue in Tbilisi is said to represent the Georgian national character: in her right hand is a sword to greet enemies; in her left hand she holds a bowl of wine to greet friends. Whatever alien life encounters the spacecraft Voyager will be greeted with the traditional Georgian drinking song “Chakrulo”.

Meals are usually drunk with wine, often homemade. The cache is dipped into as and when required – for example, when a thirsty English journalist is visiting. Special occasions are celebrated with a supra (feast) overseen by a tamada (toastmaster).

The Caucasian mountains in Georgia and Armenia harbour what Patrick E. McGovern, author of Ancient Wine: The Search For The Origins of Viticulture, describes as “probably the most ethnically diverse and linguistically rich area in the world.” The Georgian language, with a 33-letter alphabet, dates to the fifth century. The Kartvelian “ywino” is still the spoken word for “wine” in Georgia today. Georgians assert that the word “wine” is derived from “yvino”.

Wine is not just an excuse for bonhomie at dinners and social occasions. It is also representative of Georgia’s adoption of Christianity, as evidenced by the winemaking facilities at Gremi church and Nekresi monastery, among many others. Winemaking here goes back to pre-Christian – that is, Pagan – times, when the cult of Dionysus was followed enthusiastically.

A long history
Early human fossils were uncovered between 1991 and 2005 at Dminisi, a small town in the province of Kvemo Kartli in southeast Georgia. The fossils are about 1.8 million years old, the oldest ever found in Europe. It was here that archaeologists found grape pips dating to the 5th and 6th centuries BC. Traces of cultivated wine were also found on Shulaveri Hill, south of Tbilisi.

According to McGovern, Vitis Vinifera, which accounts for 99% of the world’s table wines, originates from the Taurus, Caucasus and Zagros Mountains. The greatest concentration of wild and domestic grape remains from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age (c. 8,000-3,000 BC) is in Georgia.

Nikolai Vavilov, a Russian botanist, claimed that wine was first made in Transcaucasia, the region that is now Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Revaz Ramishvili, an ampelographer at the Georgian Agricultural University, studied wild grapevines in Georgia and believed that the high morphological variability of the wild plant fitted well with Vavilov’s theory that Transcaucasia was the world centre of the domesticated grape.

As McGovern writes, “Transcaucasia stands as a model of how a wine culture can emerge and remain vibrant over centuries and millennia.” He adds cautiously, “Whether it is the ‘home of viniculture’ will require much more research”.

Dry weather and dry wines
Georgia is about the same size as Switzerland. For such a relatively small country, it has an extraordinarily diverse climate and ecology. For example, Transcaucasia has over 6,000 plant species.

The Georgian landscape is dramatic, with rivers, forests and snow-covered mountains. Old churches, scattered like smoke among the foothills of the Caucasian Mountains, represent a more prosperous past. At over 2,000 metres above sea level, Ushguli is claimed as the highest inhabited village in Europe.

Constantly veiled by rain clouds coming in from the Black Sea, western Georgia is wet and humid, with annual rainfall of 4,000 mm. If it is raining in Tbilisi, they say, it is raining in West Georgia. The extreme east, however, is as dry as a desert, with only 100 mm of rain per annum. Georgia has many mesoclimates in which to grow its more than 500 indigenous wine grape varieties.

In Soviet days there were 120,000 hectares of vines but Georgia’s vineyards were cut by 2/3 during Gorbachev’s crackdown on alcohol. Today total plantings are 44,000 hectares.

Kwevri queries
The Travels of Sir John Chardin was published in 1686. In it Chardin describes how wine was made in Georgia: “They hollow the larger trunks of great trees, which they make use of instead of tubs. In these they bruise and squeeze the grapes, and then pour out the juice into great earthen jars, which they bury in their houses, or else hard by… And when the vessel is full, they close it up with a wooden cover, then lay the earth upon it.” Over 300 years later, this is exactly how wine continues to be made in Georgia.

Kwevri are earthen jars in which wine is fermented and stored. In the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi there is a kwevri that has been dated to 5,000-6,000 BC.

Georgians like to point out that a kwevri is not an amphora, which refers principally to clay vessels in Greece and Italy that were used mainly for storage and always above ground. By contrast, a kwevri is buried underground up to the neck in the marani (wine cellar) to create a simple form of temperature control. (The larger the kwevri, the higher the fermentation temperature.) Kwevri were being used in Georgia long before amphorae were being used in Greece.

Like an amphora, a kwevri is usually made from clay but it is a slightly different, conical shape, which allows the lees to fall to the bottom and makes racking easier. When wine is made everything goes into the kwevri – the grapes with their skins, stalks and everything else. The wax-lined kwevri is used for all the main processes of winemaking – primary fermentation, malolactic fermentation and storage. The wine sometimes stays for up to two years in the kwevri before bottling. When white wine finally emerges, it has the glowing amber colour of maple syrup.

Kwevri was pushed aside in the Soviet push for quantity over quality. “Some of the big wineries that had kwevri used them to store diesel fuel… Kwevri is of huge national identity in Georgia and was a threat to the Soviet regime”, explains John Wurdeman of Pheasant’s Tears winery.

Dissonance and rough edges come naturally to the Georgians. Their polyphonic music is dissonant; their spicy food is piquant; and kwevri wines can be dauntingly tannic.

The state of Georgia
Georgia today is a different place to the one visited by Hugh Johnson in 1987 when he was researching his The Story of Wine. The intelligence services blocked his attempts to access archives. But he still found enough to convince him that Georgia had the most convincing claims to be the cradle of wine.

“Georgian Wine in Jars” is listed by Slow Food as one of its “Presidia” that “comply with production rules that respect tradition and environmental stability.” Kwevri winemaking is a tradition that spans 8,000 years – or 8,000 vintages. As John Wurdeman puts it, “there hasn’t been a year here, through all the invasions and the Soviet years, that wine in kwevri has not been made.”

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“A Piddle of Purbricks”: Tahbilk 1965–2009

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With the Australian Test team in town, I thought I’d revisit an excellent tasting that was held to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Tahbilk, when tastings were held across Europe in May 2010. Alister Purbrick, CEO and chief winemaker at Tahbilk, presented a tasting in London of 43 wines, spanning the vintages from 2009 to 1965.

Alister’s grandfather Eric Purbrick began working at Tahbilk in 1931 aged 28; he presided over 55 vintages. Three generations of Purbricks worked together for the first time in 1978, when Alister started at the age of 24.

Having wanted to push Tahbilk’s wines towards a more modern style, Alister was asked by Eric after tasting the 1962 Special Bin, “Well, old boy, if you think it’s so good, why do you want to change our reds?” Alister conceded the point. The wines would continue to be aged in big, old, oak barrels with a bit of new oak seasoning.

Some innovations were achieved, though. For the 1979 vintage new equipment was installed and the 1860 Vines Shiraz was bottled as a single vineyard wine for the first time.

Despite his old school approach to winemaking, Eric was ahead of his time in using varietal names on Tahbilk labels, which were introduced in 1965. He used to tell audiences, “We don’t make clarets and Burgundies, Hocks and Chablis, but we do make excellent light and heavy red dries and full bodied whites.”

In the first Tahbilk newsletter, published in April 1971, Eric wrote, “I have found that Tahbilk Marsanne does improve after several years in bottle. I recently tasted a 1965 which showed excellent bottle age with a full bouquet and with that, what I call, Marsanne ‘flinty’ finish.”

The oldest example here was the 1973, which still had a couple of years’ life in it. The 1979 had the characteristic honeysuckle flavour of aged Marsanne, or at least of Tahbilk’s Marsanne. The ’82 was creaking but the ’92 was lovely, retaining enough acidity to keep it refreshing and lively for at least another five years. The low-yielding, frost-affected 2007 vintage was brisker than the 2009, which had relatively lower acidity because of the scorching “Black Saturday” on 7 February 2009. For a wine that ages so well, it remains outstanding value for money.

The “1927 Vines” Marsanne comes from a single block of vines planted in 1927 by Alister’s great-grandfather Reginald Purbrick, who had purchased the Tahbilk estate in 1925 with money made from the sale of the Bacchus Marsh Concentrated Milk Company Pty to Nestlé. The price was £44,879/3/0, now equivalent to A$32 an acre. Reginald is the only Australian ever to become a Member of Parliament in Britain – though Welsh-born Julia Gillard is even better qualified.

Perhaps not as forthcoming as the basic Marsanne, the inaugural 1998 old vines was more developed and, for that matter, charming than the 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002.

Tahbilk Shiraz is fruit- rather than oak-driven, with a bit of new oak makeup but not so much as to overwhelm the juicy Shiraz fruit and big, fleshy tannins – the 2006 was a good example of this style. The Eric-inspired winemaking remains largely in place. Open-top vats are used, with no header boards or plunging. Some new French oak is used nowadays but before 1992 older barrels were utilised.

The 1968 Tahbilk Shiraz was senescent, smelling and tasting like old claret from an indifferent vintage. The 1971 still had some verve, though it smelled as though it had been in a damp cellar for a long time. The 1986 and 1998 were similarly styled, with big, fleshy tannins and leathery flavours. The tough 1991 was less appealing.

For a wine of such ancient provenance, the “1860 Vines” Shiraz was pleasingly light on its feet and not at all extracted or cumbersome. The 1996 and 2004 were paragons of what this wine can represent: a middleweight, with some elegance and fleshy but not extracted tannins, supported by tasteful use of oak. It is the only Tahbilk wine listed in the current Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine.

The Tahbilk Bin Series became Reserve in 1985. The Reserve Shiraz was introduced in 1994 as a companion to the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and has been labelled as Eric Stevens Purbrick Shiraz since 2002.

The 1971 Bin 57 was brown and oxidised but there was enough fruit in the middle and acidity on the finish to maintain it as an interesting drink. Also made from Shiraz, 1974 Bin 60 conserved some sweetness on the mid-palate but was mostly dried out on the finish.

The Reserve 1996 and 1998 were disappointing, the former perhaps tainted by TCA and the latter already veering towards oxidation, though there was a glimmer of brightness on the finish.

Eric Stevens Purbrick Shiraz 2002 showed more oak influence than the previous Bin and Reserve wines but was very congenial, as always with Tahbilk. Even with its 14% alcohol, the 2004 was charming, elegant and temperate.

The 1965 Cabernet Sauvignon was the oldest wine shown at this tasting, with some of the old cellar smell of the 1971 Shiraz. There was a bit of sweetness on the mid-palate but the finish faded into timeworn dryness.

The toasty 1971 was less immediately engaging than the 1976, which had endured better than some other wines of this age. The 1981 was even browner than the older wines. The smooth and flavoursome palate redeemed the disappointment of the ‘92’s nose. The leafy Cabernet character of the 1998 was much more interesting than the neon-purple, oak-sustained 2006.

In 1952, Eric Purbrick introduced the Reserve Cabernet, which subsequently became a series of Bin wines. The 1968 Bin 51 had a similarly warm and appealing nose to the 1984 Bin 71. There was something unpleasant on the finish of the 1976 Bin 57, alas. The sweet and juicy 1998 was much more appealing than the vaguely oxidised 1992. Similarly styled to the ESP Shiraz, Eric Stevens Purbrick Cabernet 2004 had supple fruit and some oak dryness on the finish.

Eric Purbrick had a rhyme that he would recite to amuse audiences:

You’ve heard of a gaggle of geese,
A flock of sheep,
A herd of cattle,
And even a pride of lions.
Well, I’d like to make a toast to
A piddle of Purbricks.

This 43-bottle “piddle of Purbricks” told much of the history of Tahbilk and, by extension, of the Australian wine industry.

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Ashes to Ashes: England vs. Australia again…

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With the First Test imminent, I though it would be timely to republish an article that I did for Oxford University Press in anticipation of Australia’s tour to England in 2013.

On 10 July 2013, a potential 50 playing days of Test cricket — ten consecutive Test matches of up to five days each — between England and Australia began. Try explaining to an American how two national teams can play each other for 50 days (or even five days). Or how a match can be ended by “ bad light” in a floodlit stadium. As the distinguished cricket and music writer Neville Cardus wrote, “Where the English language is unspoken there can be no real cricket, which is to say that Americans have never excelled at the game”. Cardus was perhaps unaware that the world’s oldest international sporting rivalry is not England against Australia, which began in 1877, but United States against Canada. A match between these two great cricketing nations was played in Manhattan in 1844. Try explaining that to an Englishman.

For the dedicated follower — people who, like me, have travelled 9,000 miles to watch a match or, if they have to remain at home, stay up all night watching or listening to coverage — England vs. Australia is the ultimate sporting rivalry. The Ashes, as Anglo-Australian bilateral cricket series have been called since 1882, appeal strongly to casual sport fans. For many it’s the only cricket they ever watch. The prestige of The Ashes has always partly been its relative infrequency – each team visits the opposition once every four years.

However, after the ten-match run in 2013–14 Australia will be in England again in 2015. Three series and 15 Tests in only 36 months is perhaps taking for granted the goodwill and spending power of the public and the durability of the players. On 30 July 2013 the draw for the 2015 World Cup was made. The co-hosts Australia will be in the same pool group as England; they will play the opening match of the tournament on 14 February at the MCG.

This year and next year — and the year after that — the players might look at the opposition and think to themselves, “oh no, not you again…” Too much of a good thing? Match receipts suggest not. Tickets that could be purchased upon release for less than £100 were being offered by ticket agencies at up to £1,000. Demand is insatiable because sport is entirely unpredictable. Not even the finest cricketers can control the weather or freak injuries.

This Ashes decathlon is not unprecedented but it is uncommon. The last time England and Australia played ten consecutive Tests against each other was in 1974–75, with six Tests in Australia followed by four in England. The inaugural World Cup was a caesura between the two series.

In 1920–21 there were five Tests in Australia and then five in England. Captained by the hard-nosed and imposing “big ship” Warwick Armstrong, Australia won 5–0 at home, the first time that England had been whitewashed in a five-match Ashes series and not repeated until 2006–7. Five and five, home and away, was also the basis of two consecutive series in 1901–2.

History suggests that England will struggle Down Under this winter; Australia has always won back-to-back series. An England victory in 2013–14 would be an historic first. But form says that England will prevail.

In 43 Tests from 1989 to 2005 Australia won 28 to England’s seven. It’s not that long ago that some people were suggesting that an Ashes series should be of three matches. The Aussies were bored with winning so easily; the Poms were worn down by constant beatings. India and South Africa provided more of a contest for Aussie cricketers and more of a spectacle for supporters.

The sensational 2005 Ashes, when England regained the urn after losing every series since 1989, changed all that. Since then that little urn has been harder fought for than ever. From 2001 to the 2010–11 series 30 Tests were played with 25 results and only five draws. The Ashes have never been more competitive.

England’s captain Alistair Cook and Australia’s Michael Clarke make a fascinating, diametrical contrast: Cook the country boy and Clarke the city boy; the English accumulator and the Australian stroke player. Cook is a cautious leader, more often seeking to avoid losing than pursuing a win at all costs, a reminder of the dour 1960s. Unlike Clarke he inherited a strong, successful team; his task is business as usual. Clarke’s job is to reinvigorate Australian cricket, as Allan Border did in the late ’80s. But some commentators have questioned his aptitude and appetite for the job. In recent years his own playing form has been majestic but the team has continued to struggle.

Cricket is constantly evolving. “Nothing is so fleeting as sporting achievement, and nothing so lasting as the recollection of it,” wrote the historian Greg Dening. England dominates now. In 20 years it might be Australia again. So it goes.

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Project Front Foot End of Season Report 2014-2015

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A message from my friend Vic Mills, who runs the very worthy Project Front Foot, which provides kit, coaching and age group matches for a hundred children from Mumbai’s Dharavi slum during the November to May season.

The PFF End of Season Report can be downloaded here.

“Just a quick note to introduce the PFF End of Season report. More review than report, the document covers our sixth season in Mumbai from December to June along with a series of (I hope) inspirational photographs. Well worth a read when you next get ten minutes over a cup of coffee. Atmospheric too given the temperature hike this week.

On the fundraising front our flagship summer initiative – 50 for Front Foot – is still up and running and will be for the rest of the season. If you would like to contribute, in the process adding your own Half-century Highlight, please click on the following link to our Just Giving site .

With all good wishes

Vic”    DSCN1401

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Wine, Women and Song: The Art of Martin Fuller

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The full version of this article appeared in Artists & Illustrators in July 2006.

When I visited him, Martin Fuller assured me that he had wanted to tidy up, but his studio was still what one would politely call a ‘working’ studio, with paint pots cheek by jowl with cooking pots. His dress sense is rather tidier, though; the matching red socks and braces made him look more like a City gent than a painter. He has owned (and lived in) his Brixton Hill studio for 18 years, buying it on a 120–year lease.

As his dress sense (and Garrick membership) implies, Fuller is a traditionalist, though the striking use of colour and the fluid shapes and forms of his art suggest a modernist streak. He had a classical training, but his paintings are more jazz than opera–like – bright, unexpected, and imaginative. He is a great believer in learning one’s trade before becoming more adventurous, ‘learning to walk before standing on your head’, as he puts it, and so has little time for much of modern art: ‘One has to be a shock jock to get any publicity, so that art is only validated by how much publicity the artist gets and how shocking the work is, rather than the intrinsic quality of the work. We live in a culture where what matters is not what somebody does but how famous they are’.

After seeing Fuller’s painting The Encounter, the novelist Howard Jacobson wrote that ‘I am not sure that I have ever seen so much wine, women and song on a single wall’, though this could be applied to much of Fuller’s art, and his domestic life, too. Wine has always featured in his work – ‘wine is central to European culture, really’, he reckons. His fiancée Margaret Rand is a distinguished wine writer, and he has even designed a wine label for the London wine merchants Morris & Verdin. A great opera fan – he likes to paint to music – he met Margaret at Glyndebourne during a production of Così fan tutte. His love of music led to an appearance on Radio 3’s Private Passions.

1cWine, women and song are obviously important to him, though he describes his own work as focusing on ‘opera, love, sex and something of the nightclub’, and that it is ‘more like poetry than prose…the onlooker makes their own personal associations from their own personal experience’. He is vague about the meaning of any particular canvas, but the titles of his paintings are deliberately epigrammatic, hinting at a story that the viewer doesn’t necessarily see at first. Take The Encounter, for instance: a woman throwing a glass of wine at another woman in a bar. But why? And who? And where? He won’t say. ‘I like a story’, he says, ‘but a story that people can make their own, a bit like going to the opera and not understanding German but seeing this moral tableau and fitting on this story’. He doesn’t have a favourite painting: ‘It’s like asking what’s my favourite wine, it changes depending upon one’s mood’. He has been influenced by ‘lots and lots and lots’ of artists in his career, too many and too diverse to name: ‘When you start off as a painter, you feel palpably as though somebody is sitting on your shoulder. I loved the Impressionists, but now my reaction to them is sentimental’.

Martin Fuller was born in 1943 in Royal Leamington Spa and his initial studies were at the local Mid–Warwickshire College of Art, from 1960–62. ‘Mid–Warwickshire College was very good’, he says; ‘they taught drawing, and I was a natural image maker, but I wasn’t necessarily a natural drawer. They made me draw objectively. In a way it’s quite beautiful to have gone through that rigour and not to have one’s creativity made dead’.

He moved to London in 1962 to attend Hornsey College of Art, where he became ‘more sybaritically cultured’, then was awarded the Guggenheim–McKinley Scholarship to Italy in 1964. He was in Positano for just under a year and says that it changed his life: in those days there was a thriving artists and writers community, long before the tourist invasion: ‘Although it was the beginning of the supposed swinging sixties, London was still fairly dour, so then I went to Italy with its food culture and more emotional openness…I remember watching a traffic policeman in white jodhpurs and a white hat pinching a girl’s bottom. It was a wonderful revelation of a different way of life’. The Italian light, which was ‘very different from Camden Town’, also influenced his art.

When he returned from Italy he took a job at Hornsey, painted portraits, and then in 1968 had his first one–man show at the Arnolfini gallery in Bristol, which he reckons at that time was probably the best provincial art gallery in Britain. He continued to exhibit widely throughout the 1970s and ’80s.

3cIn 1991 he spent a year as Artist in Residence at Santa Fe in New Mexico. Five years later he won the Discerning Eye Modern Painters Prize and also won first prize in the Hunting Art Prize in 1997. In 2001, Martin was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at Leamington Art Gallery & Museum, and was alarmed when not a single person from his early days in Leamington came to the exhibition, bringing to mind John Betjeman’s poem ‘Death in Leamington Spa’. His most recent exhibition was in December 2005 at Adam Gallery in Mayfair, just up the road from the Royal Academy of Arts, where nowadays he occasionally teaches.

Martin’s work may be found in many collections, including Trinity College, Oxford (1971), Bristol City Art Gallery and Museum (1971 and 1973), and the Sullivan Collection, New York (1995) – so many, in fact, that he admits, ‘I do wonder where some of my pictures are, whether they’re still hanging on the wall or have been stolen!’

He also does watercolours, believing that ‘you can get saturated working in just one medium’. How long does it take him to complete a painting? ‘As one progresses through one’s career, there’s a lot more thought and a lot less work…It might take a poet an hour to physically write down a poem but the composition and thinking behind it might take six months…I tend to do some things and then hide them’. His paintings cost anywhere from £5,000 to £15,000, and he has regular commissions from collectors and other people.

In his review of Martin’s 2001 retrospective, William Packer wrote that ‘He does what he does, is what he is, and has always taken his own path. He is something of an original, and as such yet to be recognised at his full critical worth’. Amen.

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“Katie Melua and friends” – please support people and animals who lost homes in Tbilisi flood

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My friend Mako Abashidze, who is Director of the British-Georgian Chamber of Commerce, is holding an event in support of people affected by the recent floods in Tbilisi:

“As you know we had a terrible flood in Tbilisi, families lost their homes and poor animals are homeless too.

We would like you to ask for your support and help- please join us on Friday, 26, 7pm at 77 Shelton Street, Covent Garden. With your help and support we believe we can help our friends in Tbilisi.”


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RAW emotion: Natural Wine

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Due to other commitments I was unable to attend this year’s RAW fair, always so expertly managed by Isabelle Legeron MW. But a while ago I wrote an account of a very enjoyable evening in New York with Alice Feiring, the so-called “high priestess” (though she prefers “Patti Smith”) of natural wine and author of (the in parts excellent) The Battle for Wine and Love: Or How I Saved the World from Parkerization.

We tried several natural wines, which, with no official recognition, can be difficult to define. Essentially, as little as possible is added to the wine. Grapes are grown organically or biodynamically and only natural yeasts are used.

The use of sulphur with natural wines is contentious. In principle, a bare minimum is used but the bravest (some would say most foolish) winemakers don’t use any at all, which makes the wine highly prone to oxidation and microbial growth.

The wines we tasted in New York were, for the most part, oxidised. (Some deliberately so, apparently – but this may be tautological.) They had acidity like a cat’s claws. Natural as they were, I took no pleasure in drinking them. I like freshness and balance, not decay and a kick in the face.

Alice’s view of wine is, “I want them natural and most of all, I want them to speak the truth even if we argue.” Alice and other proponents of natural wine believe emphatically that natural wine = good wine, or, more poetically, truth is beauty. But, on the basis of what we tasted together that night in NYC (and other wines that I have tasted subsequently), this is a fallacy. Just because a wine has used cultured yeasts or sulphur doesn’t mean that it’s bad or that it doesn’t speak the truth. Chemicals won’t make a wine better – but they do stabilise it. Is an oxidised wine more “truthful” than a wine freshened by sulphur? Which would have the most expressive fruit and best interpretation of its terroir?

During a pevious Natural Wine Fair, held at Borough Market in London (and at which Miss Feiring was a speaker), there was a panel discussion on “Selling Natural Wine in the On-Trade”. Chaired by Doug Wregg of the excellent importer (and natural / organic / biodynamic wine specialist) Les Caves de Pyrène, the panel comprised the current world champion sommelier Gérard Basset MS MW; Xavier Rousset MS of Texture and 28-50; and Romain Henry of Hibiscus, which has one of the most extensive restaurant lists of natural wines in the UK.

As Doug admitted, “The big problem is defining the term, ‘natural wine’. We deliberately don’t want too many precise rules. A lot of producers have opted out of systems like AOC or Vin de Table and don’t want to be evaluated by the wine press or other people. (But) we can respect them for being individuals.”

Xavier said, “I tasted a lot of very good wines today but I’m even more confused than I was before going in. I thought there was never any sulphur but some producers used sulphur… The biggest issue for me is people hiding behind ‘natural wine’ and bottling oxidized wine and thinking, ‘I can get away with that because I’m natural’… I find them interesting and I enjoy a glass – but never a bottle.” It’s difficult for consumers because, as Xavier pointed out, some natural wines are “crazy” and some are “very clean and fresh.”

The distinguished wine writer Margaret Rand was in the audience. She asked Gérard if he had any oxidised-style whites on his list: “No.” Margaret continued, “I’ve tasted some outstanding wines here but some wines that, frankly, were horrible because they were oxidised to hell. I thought, bring on the sulphur! I have nothing against natural wines in principal but surely they stand or fall on their quality?”

Xavier asked Romain what was “the best wine he had ever tasted, perhaps a Grand Cru Burgundy or 1961 Bordeaux, probably it was conventional.” Romain didn’t answer specifically but Feiring piped up that it was “probably naturally made”, though what defines “natural” remained elusive.

What was intended as a debate on how to sell these sometimes esoteric wines turned into a clash of cultures: natural = good vs. good = good. The natural wine “debate” has turned into an argument about moral judgements. Even the philosopher Bertrand Russell, who said, “Drunkenness is temporary suicide”, could not settle this one.

My conclusion is that, as the English conductor and impresario Sir Thomas Beecham said, you should try everything once except incest and folk dancing. Everything includes “natural wine”.


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Serene Sotheby’s: A history of Sotheby’s Wine Department

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Founded in 1744 as the book saleroom Baker’s, Sotheby’s, as it became in 1804, began to diversify into wine much later. From modest beginnings, its wine department now bestrides the wine world, with offices in London, New York and Hong Kong.

Early fermentations

Sotheby’s first recorded sale of wine was in 1868 at Wellington Street in London, when 1,300 dozen Rhine wines went under the hammer. But there would not be another sale of note for over 100 years.

The formation of Sotheby’s wine department is inextricably aligned with that of Christie’s, which had re-established its wine department in 1966 with Michael Broadbent MW and other staff from Harvey’s of Bristol, including Digby Lang, David Cossart MW and Broadbent’s secretary Rosemary Ward. That year was the centenary of the only wine auctioneers in London, W&T Restell, whose then head Alan Taylor-Restell suggested that his family business and Christie’s new wine department might combine, with Restell providing logistical help to Christie’s.

Upon the establishment of Christie’s wine department some of Sotheby’s clients started to sell their wine through Christie’s. These clients often had substantial inherited estates, including furniture, paintings and other works of art, so Sotheby’s board became increasingly fearful of losing potential business. Some board members were “not keen”, remembers Patrick Grubb MW, but by 1970 agreement was reached and a wine department was formed.

Fenton’s Reagent

The first head of Sotheby’s wine department was the late Colin Fenton MW, who, like Broadbent, was a former employee of Harvey’s of Bristol. He brought with him his secretary Sarah Nelson, David Molyneaux-Berry (another future head of department and MW) and John Lloyd. Effectively, then, all the founding members of both Christie’s and Sotheby’s wine departments were ex-Harvey’s staff.

Fenton was a protégé of the late Harry Waugh, the director and wine buyer for Harvey’s. “Colin knew his wines, had good contacts and great charm”, says Grubb, who also joined Sotheby’s at this time. Molyneaux-Berry recalls, “largely due to Colin and the fact that the wine department was given free rein, it was hugely innovative from the start. We were given an office that had previously been a flat. It always amused me that Colin sat at his desk in a chair that was situated where previously there had been a lavatory! Basically we were given a blank piece of paper on which to draw up our plans and strategy. I had worked with Colin on this project whilst still at Harvey’s – in our own time, I might add.”

The fledgling department’s first sale was in Glasgow on 16 September 1970, followed by the first London sale on 26 October. At this time British Transport Hotels owned the Glasgow Central Hotel (along with many others) and was launching the Malmaison Wine Club. The turnover for the inaugural season of wine sales was £148,288 and included a bottle of Château d’Yquem 1921 that sold for £38.

In 1972, Sotheby’s was involved with the Nicolas “In Aid of Venice” auction, the first three-nation wine sale, which was to be held in London, Paris and New York. At the last minute, New York refused permission for the auction because of legal restrictions and the sale was transferred to California. Another 20 years would pass before wine auctions were formalised in New York and Sotheby’s wine department was able to establish itself in the North American market.

Grubb Street

Patrick Grubb was invited to take Colin Fenton’s place in 1973 but it was not an auspicious time to be a wine auctioneer. “Within a few months we were all faced with the 1974 recession and collapse of the property market”, he recollects, “but I had good contacts in the trade, having started in 1952. My main efforts were to source stock but also to raise morale in the department in the face of continuing opposition from some board members.” Grubb also recalls being told in confidence by a friend that he had overheard a fellow director in the picture department tell some clients that “the wine department was hardly worth maintaining.”

The millionaire real estate developer Alfred Taubman purchased Sotheby’s in 1983, acting as a “white knight” when the company was threatened by a hostile and unwanted takeover by Marshall Cogan and Steven Swid of the carpet manufacturing company General Felt. After the Taubman purchase, Grubb resigned to establish his own business in 1984, which continues to be the UK’s leading importer of old and fine Madeira wines. Grubb observes, “The department has grown enormously, with substantial turnovers each year, and has skilfully taken full advantage of the increasing global interest in fine wines.”

The strong rivalry with Christie’s became even more intense when Sotheby’s wine department introduced an eight percent buyer’s premium in 1984. “I took quite a lot of flack from some of our clients and Christie’s made a bit of a meal of it”, says Grubb. The wine department was opposed to the premium “but after considerable pressure agreed to fall into line”, says Molyneaux-Berry.

Broadbent declared that he would implement a buyers charge “over (my) dead body” and referred to his rivals as “a whited sepulchre!” Sotheby’s apparently lost much business because of his successful stance against imposing a buyer’s premium. However, in 1986 Broadbent was forced to cave in due to pressure from the Christie’s board. This brought a gleeful response from Grubb, who published a satirical poem aimed at Christie’s that included the lines, “Sepulchral hollow laughter is heard in King Street now / Despite all protestations they’ve killed a sacred cow.” Broadbent was apparently crestfallen. “It took him over three months to telephone me”, recalls Molyneaux-Berry, “he said, ‘this is a spirit talking.’ I did not get the joke immediately, but it dawned on me later what he meant.”

Among the highlights of his time with Sotheby’s, Grubb mentions “a splendid Midlands cellar, about which the owner was very deprecating. A wonderful long, vaulted cellar with vast double bins down either side, slightly damp, which had led to the finest crop of penicillin spreading across all the bottles. Amongst the gems were several dozen Constantia, circa 1790, in their original Cape Dutch bottles. When tasted later in our sample room, the aromas filled our office and the wine was still vigorous and beautiful. It sold well, too!”

On another occasion, he received a letter from Scotland that accompanied a bottle: “I was asked to appraise the bottle and value a further stock of the same wine. It was 1870 Latour or Lafite, I forget which, and another superb treasure but the vintage had been slow to mature and for decades was not toothsome. The storage in Scotland had meant a slow maturation. The bottles were contemporary, too. Anyway, I wrote a glowing report on the wine and valued it. A terse reply came to the effect that the owner had not intended me ‘to open the bloody bottle’!”

Molyneaux Corners

Patrick Grubb’s successor was David Molyneaux-Berry. In his early days with Sotheby’s “it was still very conservative, although its chairman Peter Wilson had led the company to centre stage with his vision of Impressionist art and Victoriana sales.” Like Grubb, he recalls struggles with the board: “We came under the direct control of the Earl of Westmoreland, who was very supportive but there were a few directors and partners who had reservations and were against the whole idea. We won them over with our innovations.”

During Molyneaux-Berry’s 20 years with Sotheby’s the wine department expanded abroad, with sales taking place in Amsterdam, Geneva, Zürich, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Tokyo and Bangkok. There were other novelties: “We were the first department to break away from the very staid catalogue covers, shapes and colours. We were the first to put an illustration on the cover and the first to print estimates for each lot. Today this is standard practice in virtually every auction house in the world. It caused quite a stir at the time but it was clear to us that that this is what clients wanted.”

There were many logistical difficulties in the early days. Before the introduction of the decimalised sterling currency in Britain, everything was sold in pounds, shillings and pence. Sotheby’s chief sales clerk declared that calculators were “not accurate enough” so all calculations had to be done manually. If, after calculating the total value of the sale, it was out by a single penny, the clerk would insist on it being recounted. All invoices and delivery documents were handwritten. In the saleroom there were no paddles – the auctioneer called out clients’ names, with a runner collecting the names on sheets completed by successful bidders.

When Britain joined the European Economic Community on 1 January 1973, its currency was changed to the decimal. The strict clerk now permitted calculators but these were expensive and not provided by the company.

Computers were introduced, which were “both a blessing and a curse”, feels Molyneaux-Berry, “because the computer had to be able to accommodate every department of Sotheby’s auction business. It was a nightmare. Furthermore, the American operation used a different system and a different machine that could not talk to the UK machine. Sometimes at least 30 percent of the working day was taken up with sorting out computer problems rather than getting business. Things have changed now.”


The current head of Sotheby’s wine department is Serena Sutcliffe MW, who joined the auction house in January 1991. She and her husband David Peppercorn MW were both approached in mid-1989. Peppercorn said no thank you, as did Serena “because we had a lovely life. We worked very well together. But then David said ‘you should do it.’ I was finally persuaded by the challenge of running the wine department and the possibility of being close to the art world. Access to great tastings has always been a strong motivation, too.”

Jamie Ritchie, the present Senior Vice President of Sotheby’s New York wine department, had just joined and Stephen Mould, now Senior Director in London, was already in situ. Sutcliffe’s first sale was set against the background of a recession and was held on the day that the USA went into Kuwait in January 1991. It was “challenging”, she remembers. “There were four people in the room and two of them disappeared quickly!”

Although there was no hangover from the Taubman acquisition and “Patrick had been very, very good and did very well”, when she joined the department it nonetheless needed a lot of work to catch up with rivals “but it can be good to turn something around in those circumstances and make the ground rules.”

Prior to the opening up of Hong Kong and the Asian market, the biggest change to the fine wine market during Sutcliffe’s tenure had been the reintroduction of wine auctions to New York in 1994. Because of the legal requirement that wine auctioneers have a retail partner, Sotheby’s worked with Sherry-Lehman to 1999 and then with Aulden Cellars, which was bought by Sotheby’s in 2008 so that it now has its own wine retail outlet in New York City. Before New York was opened for business Sotheby’s wine sales were largely restricted to London. Sutcliffe admits that if New York had not emerged “I would probably have gone off to do something else.”

Highs and lows

Since that inauspicious start there have been many highlights for Sutcliffe, such as “great private collections, not all of which we can reveal the owner of. Many of the great collections and sales have been anonymous.”

High profile sales have included The Andrew Lloyd Webber Wine Collection, which was sold in May 1997 for a total of £3,692,821, a then-record total for any wine sale and which still stands as the best ever total for a Sotheby’s wine sale in London. “It set the wine world alight and got the world’s media interested. People realised that wine could make money”, she comments. The highest priced lot of the sale was “The Millennium Dream Cellar” of 265 bottles, 77 magnums and some larger formats of fine and rare wine. It was sold to Barrie Larvin, the then Master Sommelier of the Rio Group of Hotels, for £242,000. Some of the wines are still available at the Rio Suites Hotel and Casino’s The Wine Cellar bar and restaurant in Las Vegas.

Other big sales include The Millennium Cellar of 3,000 lots auctioned over two days in November 1991 for $14.4 million, a record total that stood until October 2006 when it was broken by Acker Merrall & Condit’s THE Cellar II sale. The auction of wines from the cellars of the Princes von Thurn und Taxis at Schloss St. Emmeram in October 1993 totalled £957,432. (The current and 12th Prince Albert Maria Lamoral Miguel Johannes Gabriel, born in 1983, is apparently the world’s youngest billionaire.) The Christian Sveaas sale in 1999, the Russell Frye and Park B. Smith sales in 2006 and the four Aubrey McClendon “Classic Cellar from a Great American Collector” auctions in 2009 and 2010 have also been successful and high profile.

Individual lot records claimed by Sotheby’s include the most expensive fortified wine – a 1775 sherry from the Massandra collection, sold at Sotheby’s London in 2001 for £27,500. In November 2004 Sotheby’s sold the “World’s Largest Bottle of Wine” – a “maximus” of 2001 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which holds 130 litres, equivalent to 173 regular bottles or 1,200 glasses – for $47,500.

Sotheby’s New York sold 50 cases of Mouton Rothschild 1982 for $880,000 in November 2006. A Jéroboam of Mouton 1945 sold for $260,000 in the Baroness Philippine sale in February 2007 and a case of Romanée-Conti 1990 made $220,000 at the New York Evening Sale in October 2007 – both were claimed record prices for the wine and format. The highest bid of 2008 was £320,000 for 136 bottles of Château d’Yquem 1892-2001, sold at Sotheby’s London in April that year.

Sotheby’s hasn’t always got it right. Some Latour 1982 that was owned by the auction house itself failed to sell in the mid-1990s and a sale of Massandra wines in December 2004 sold only 37 percent of lots. But on the whole, Sotheby’s, like most other wine auctioneers, enjoyed febrile market conditions before the October 2008 crash. The market has continued to strengthen since then. “People can still make a lot of money”, Sutcliffe believes.

Future studies

To mark the 40th anniversary of the Wine Department in 2010, Sotheby’s held a two-day sale in London on 22-23 September. “It is difficult to believe that the turnover for the Wine Department’s first season, 40 years ago, was £148,288 while our 2010 global turnover to end July was over US$37 million. Feel the pressure!” jokes Sutcliffe. “Certainly, this could not be done without a devoted and experienced international team, to which all credit falls. It has been a privilege to lead Sotheby’s Wine Department to this position.” A retail wine shop was opened in New York on 21 September 2010.

Sutcliffe promised Sotheby’s only five years of her time but so far has given them 24: “There are always new challenges, new stimuli. There are still some great collections out there, though most of them have now been acquired. There are still some great family cellars in Europe.”

She concludes, “After all these years, you’ve seen it all. The market has changed since 1991, with huge globalisation. It’s good being part of what I call the ‘dispersal’ process. When you’ve got great stuff, you can sell it. The whole secret is finding the good stuff.”

Reflecting on his 20 years at Sotheby’s, Molyneaux-Berry sums up, “I could write a book about the subject as there were so many memorable moments, mostly good, some bad. One thing is for sure: this is one of the most interesting jobs anyone could have.”

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Sophie’s Choice: The life and work of Sophie de Pichon-Longueville

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With the Bordeaux en primeur campaign currently underway, and Pichon-Lalande 2014 being highly praised, I thought it was timely to revisit an article that I did for FINE magazine a while ago that looks at this great Bordeaux estate from a different perspective.

Although Virginie, Comtesse de Lalande, is the most famous of the women to be associated with Château Pichon-Lalande, her elder sister Sophie de Pichon-Longueville is the most enigmatic.

peinture sophieThe long story of Château Pichon-Lalande often has a strong feminine presence. Directly or by marriage, the same family governed it from 1685 to 1925. For most of the eighteenth century, women oversaw the Pichon-Longueville estate, a tradition that culminated in the distinguished May-Eliane de Lencquesaing working at Pichon-Lalande for 30 years until January 2007.

Two sisters founded what eventually became Pichon-Lalande: the beautiful Virginie de Pichon-Longueville (1798-1882), who became Comtesse de Lalande after marrying Henri, comte Raymond de Lalande in 1818; and the enigmatic Sophie (1785-1858), a painter, poet and nun. 

Le Songe d'OssianThe sisters are commemorated today in the grand vin’s full name of Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande and in the estate’s limitrophe vineyards, which – uniquely among the Médoc’s crus classés – sprawl across two appellations. The Pauillac vineyards include the “Sophie” parcel of Cabernet Sauvignon that lies to the south-west of Pichon-Lalande’s château, cheek by jowl with Latour’s vines.

Five into two
Pichon-Lalande traces its origins back to Pierre Rauzan (c.1620-1692), one-time owner of Châteaux Margaux and Latour. Land surrounding Latour was turned into an estate that became known as L’Enclos Rauzan and which formed the basis of Pichon-Longueville.

As if in a Balzac novel – albeit one with a relatively happy ending – the Baron Joseph de Pichon-Longueville (1760-1849), great-grandson of Pierre Rauzan, decided to share the domain between his five children.

It took Baron Joseph 70 years, during which he saw France undergo three revolutions, five kings, two republics and one empire, to create Pichon-Longueville. To divide the estate into two separate entities took only six years.

Raoul gained the part destined for the two sons (the younger son Louis had died in 1835), which became Pichon-Baron; the rest went to the three daughters Virginie, Gabrielle and Sophie.

Terror and Terroir
Only 14 surviving paintings have been attributed to Sophie and hardly anything is known of her life. But two things are thought to have influenced both her art and her life: the Revolution of 1798 and a love affair that apparently ended with sadness.

Sophie was only seven when her family was forced to leave Bordeaux for the Médoc in spring 1792. Eighteen months later, la Terreur began. Baron Joseph and his wife Marguerite de Narbonne Pelet d’Anglade were arrested and imprisoned. They were not released until June 1794.

When the Bourbon family, in the form of Louis XVIII, was restored to power in 1814 after the abdication of Napoleon Bonaparte, Sophie became a passionate Bourboniste. Talleyrand, the “Prince of Diplomats” and a former owner of Château Haut-Brion, supported the new king. Doubtless the de Pichon-Longueville family knew Talleyrand as a fellow winemaker and Bourboniste.

After the death of Marguerite in 1822, Sophie privately published 16 of her poems in a volume called Poésies Fugitives, printed on vellum and dedicated “to my mother, who always asked me for a collection of my verses.” The copy at Pichon-Lalande, which contains handwritten notes by Sophie herself, was found serendipitously by Madame de Lencquesaing’s son in Paris several years ago.

Several poems refer to the events of 1814 and to the birth in September 1820 of Henri Charles Ferdinand Marie Dieudonné d’Artois, duc de Bordeaux, comte de Chambord, in 1820.

Louis XVIII did not have children so the throne passed to his younger brother Charles X, whose son the duc d’Angoulême had also so far failed to produce an heir. Charles’s younger son the duc de Berry was assassinated in February 1820, putting the Bourbon dynasty in serious jeopardy. But Berry’s widow Princess Caroline of Naples and Sicily gave birth to the “Dieudonné” (“God-given”) duc de Bordeaux in September 1820, enabling the Bourbon line to continue. Baron Joseph was charged with representing Bordeaux to the king at the christening of the duc.

Some of the other poems in Poésies Fugitives are more frivolous. “Voyages” is about the vulgarity of the nouveaux riches at a ball held in Lesparre-Médoc, a small town 20 kilometres north-west of Pauillac, and has whimsical observations on a one-eyed, one-legged coach driver.

Les femmes savantes
The most famous woman artist of the late eighteenth century was Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun, the favourite painter of Marie-Antoinette and a member of the Academies of Rome, Parma, Bologna, Saint Petersburg and Berlin.

Her husband was Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun, a painter and art dealer, whose great uncle was Charles Le Brun, the first Director of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. In 1663, Le Brun introduced the first female to the Académie, Catherine Duchemin, wife of the sculptor François Girardon.

Although Vigée-Le Brun was highly successful, there were few female painters in the early nineteenth century. Academic art training placed much emphasis on nude studies, which was considered inappropriate for women.

An unknown master in Bordeaux taught Sophie to paint. She went to Paris in about 1812 to study in the studio of François Gérard, the most fashionable portraitist of the Empire and the Restoration. Gérard had studied under Jacques-Louis David, the pre-eminent Neo-Classical painter of the era.

Le Songe d'Ossian Reproductions of Gérard’s portraits were in great demand – he was a noted society figure, known as “the king of painters and painter of kings”. As part of his students’ training they would make copies of his works. Sophie’s partial copy of Gérard’s 1802 work Ossian évoque les fantômes au son de la harpe, signed and dated 1814, shows her leaning more towards the exuberant colours of Romanticism than the sombre chiaroscuro of Neo-Classicism.

Though Gérard paid Sophie for the copies she made of his paintings, there is no record of her selling any of her own canvases.

Savoie faire
Despite the upheaval caused by the fall of Napoleon’s French Empire in 1814, Sophie continued to lead a privileged life. Probably she was able to attend some of Gérard’s high society salons. She refers in her poetry to a visit to Vichy in 1814 and is known to have met the duchesse d’Angoulême at about this time.

In about 1815, she travelled to the Alps, the landscapes of which appear in several of her paintings. She was probably in Paris between 1816 and 1819 before returning to Bordeaux in 1820 or 1821, when she painted a portrait of her brother-in-law Comte Henri Raymond de Lalande, husband of Virginie.
There is a portrait by Sophie at Pichon-Lalande of a good-looking, bespectacled young man known as “Sophie’s fiancé”. A similar figure appears in two of Sophie’s mountain scenes, Lucerne (1820) and Le Pont du Diable au Mont Saint Gothard (1821).

Nothing at all is known about this man. David Haziot, author of Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande: A Passion for Wine, suggests that he was Savoyard or Italian, though Pichon-Lalande’s Communications Director Fabienne Durou believes that he might be Pierre Lacour fils, son of the painter of the same name who founded the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux. It is possible that Lacour père was the unknown Bordeaux master who tutored Sophie.

In the Musée there are three portraits of Lacour fils by Lacour père, one of which is a copy by his daughter Madeleine Aimée Lacour. Certainly there is a remarkable resemblance between “Sophie’s fiancé” and the portraits of Lacour fils.

Still waters
LucerneThe figure in Sophie’s portrait wears a Tricolour flag in his buttonhole. Perhaps the Bourboniste Sophie was in love with a Republican, though there is no suggestion in her writings of any betrayal by a lover, so possibly Sophie was forced by the political zeitgeist to break off their relationship. A poem in Poésies Fugitives suggests that Sophie had been unable to marry because of her mother’s illness.

Lucerne shows a woman sketching beside a bespectacled man, who looks up at her adoringly. His red military jacket lies on the ground next to them. She wears white and the river flows by calmly.

Le Point du DiableThe emotions of Le Pont du Diable au Mont Saint Gothard are the antithesis of those of Lucerne. The landscape has been identified as the Teufelsbrücke (Devil’s Bridge) in the Schöllenen Gorge in Switzerland. A black-clad female sits with her back turned to a bespectacled man, who now wears his red jacket and prepares to mount his horse. The water rushes past with much more urgency than in Lucerne, its haste conveyed by the busy, forceful brushstrokes.

Panorama_Teufelsbrücke_Andermatt2There are two later undated Swiss landscapes, Vu d’un lac de montage en Suisse and Le Songe d’Ossian, in which the water is again calm.

Portrait of the artist as a young woman?
Madame de Lencquesaing acquired an undated portrait that once hung at Pichon-Baron and was sold after the château was acquired by AXA that is thought to be a self-portrait by Sophie.

The melancholy female figure wears no makeup. The pink ribbon adds a touch of brightness to an otherwise sombre and unflattering painting in which the unsmiling lady wears a black velvet dress that was typical of the habit worn by the spinster residents of the Order of Saint Anne.

Maison au bord du lacIn 1823, Sophie retired to a convent. The Order of Saint Anne in Würzburg was attached to a sister convent in Munich, where Sophie became a lady of honour. She used her full title “Comtesse Sophie de Pichon Longueville, Ordre des Demoiselles de Sainte Anne à Munich” to sign her 1838 painting Maison au bord du lac, the largest of the Sophie canvases at Pichon-Lalande.

After entering the convent Sophie wrote no more poems but continued to paint, though the portraits and Alpine scenes were now replaced by religious themes. In the church of Saint-Martin de Pauillac hangs the life-size painting of Christ en croix, its dark colours and orange hues recognisably the work of Sophie. Saint-Martin was designed by the architect Armand Corcelles, who also built the château at Labégorce-Zédé.

Mystic wills
In her “testament mystique” – her will, dated 25 August 1858 – Sophie requested that 400 prayers be said for her soul. Some of her estate went to her brother Raoul and other sister Gabrielle but most of it, including her share of Pichon, was left to Virginie, “ma chère soeur”.

ComtesseVirginie inherited Sophie’s half-share of the Hôtel Montméjean, the de Pichon-Longueville’s Bordeaux home. She sold the hotel share to her surviving sister Gabrielle and used the funds to buy equipment and to build a winery and cellar. In the year of Sophie’s death, Virginie had her portrait painted by Perrignon. The image of her in a black shawl, still mourning for her sister, now adorns the label of Pichon-Lalande’s second wine Réserve de la Comtesse.

Virginie and Sophie first jointly made wine separate to Raoul’s in 1856 – their 20-hectare holding was the beginning of what became Pichon-Lalande. Gabrielle, who had retained a ten-hectare share of Pichon-Longueville, continued to use Raoul’s facilities until her death in 1875. Like Sophie, she left her estate to Virginie, making that estate the larger of the two Pichons.

Despite the 1855 classification, which saw Pichon-Lalande created as a Deuxième Cru, the 1850s was a challenging decade for Bordeaux, a period in which in its vineyards were devastated by Powdery Mildew. But thanks in part to Sophie de Pichon-Longueville, Pichon-Lalande’s immediate future was assured.

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