January 21st, 2019

Another Year Notched Up

Ailz bought fleece lined trousers for my mother but they were too long in the leg and rather than return them to the seller (which would involve taking them to a collection point in Wadhurst or Marden) I claimed them. Normally I wear jeans but I thought if I didn't choose to wear the fleeces on a frosty day like today I never would- so I did.

At my age you get up several times in the night as a matter of course so it was no hardship- or nothing out of the ordinary- to be up at 4.30 to take a look at the super blood wolf moon. The sky was clear over Kent but a little hazy- and the moon was high in the sky and small and brown and blotchy with silvering to the side. It looked unwell.

My mother didn't want to get up this morning. "Oh, go away!" she said. I told her to stop behaving like a 5 year old and I hadn't wanted to get up either but I'd made myself. Then, once she was on her feet, I lightened the mood by telling her it was my birthday and how old I was. "You're never 68," she said.

"Oh yes, I am!"

The Vanishing Man: Laura Cumming

In 1623 the young Diego Velasquez is reported to have painted a portrait of the young Prince Charles- later Charles I of England. The portrait- if it ever existed- then disappeared from the record.

In 1845 a Reading bookseller called John Snare bought a picture in a local auction that he came to believe was the lost Velasquez. He devoted the rest of his life to trying to prove his case.

The portrait travelled with him wherever he went. It was exhibited in London, Edinburgh and New York and cost him no end of trouble along the way. Some connoiseurs agreed with Snare, some disagreed. It was never copied, never photographed and was last heard of in 1903. It has since disappeared without trace.

So there are three vanishing men-

Velasquez- about whom we know about as much as we know about Shakespeare.

John Snare- in his own way as elusive as Velasquez.

And, of course, the man in the portrait.

Along the way we learn about Velasquez's art (Cumming believes him to the greatest painter ever), about 19th century snobbery and connoiseurship- and we follow poor John Snare in his ever more bedraggled quest for validation- a story with all the twists and turns of a fictional mystery.


And the painting? It may still be out there somewhere. Was it a Velasquez? Quien sabe?