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Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Postcard from an artist

This week's photo prompt shows a group of people painting by the waterfront. 

 We have sometimes come across people painting 'en plein air' and I thought I might possibly have had a photograph somewhere that showed them in the background, but it seems not, so instead I've included this postcard that I found a couple of years ago at a store that was selling antiques, bric-a-brac and curiosities. On the front is a pen sketch by Leonardo da Vinci entitled "Study of flowing water".The original of this work is part of The Royal Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

What I am more interested in is the writer's note on the back, because the author is the well-known Australian painter Clifton Pugh, 1924-1990, writing from London to his friend Marie back in Arthur's Creek, Victoria Australia. She was the widow of a prominent Australian writer but I won't identify her further as she may still be with us, as is Pugh's third wife Judith. 


"Hello, some good news - the painting 
of Prince Phillip is going well. I'm
 painting in the grand Reception room of Windsor Castle. I did a
 portrait of Judith in the gilded
 air, and when Phillip saw it,
 it was the one he wanted 
so Judith is now "in the possession
 of", along with two landscapes
 of mine that he has had 
for some time. 
Love from us,

I can picture Clifton sitting there with his easel and painting equipment in those grand surroundings. He had previously painted portraits of many famous Australians. It appears that HRH Prince Phillip did not keep the painting, as it is now held in the art gallery of Benalla, a Victorian country town a couple of hours north of Melbourne. Unfortunately there's no image online, and Benalla is a bit too far for me to go check it out specially, although next time we're passing that way I may stop for a look, and perhaps if it is on view, I might offer the postcard to the gallery.

You can read an article written by Judith Pugh about Clifton here  on the Australian National Portrait Gallery web site.  The piece is illustrated by a painting of Judith in 1976, which may well be the one referred to as being 'in the gilded air' by Clifton in his postcard to Marie.  Another portrait included with the piece is that of the late Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt, with whom, according to Judith, Clifton was to have gone skin diving on the day that Holt mysteriously disappeared. Pugh had cancelled the arrangement because it was his birthday and a birthday lunch was planned. In a blog last year I wrote about the mysterious death of Harold Holt on 17 December 1967.  If Clifton had not cancelled, perhaps the tragedy that unfolded that day might not have occurred.

 I've written previously  about my uncle Graeme Morrison and my distant cousin John Petrie who were both artists, and have also made mention of my grandmother Mona Forbes who attended art school in Christchurch NZ. Another distant cousin Charlotte Petrie studied at the Slade School of Art on London in the 1920s.  Here is an article about Miss Petrie's impressions of the Slade School, published after her return to NZ. We have one of her paintings.
Sunset on the Estuary at Invercargill, by Charlotte Petrie

 Below is the only photo I can offer of anyone actually painting at an easel, or in this case a blackboard. It shows one of our young sons and was taken back in 1984. Unfortunately I can't tell you that he went on to show any inherited artistic talent, but I'm sure he enjoyed himself at the time!

For more blogs about artists at work or at play, visit Sepia Saturday #356

Postscript: Years ago I did a photography class at a centre where a life drawing class was taking place at the same time, and we had to walk around the artists to get to the darkroom. Unfortunately we were not permitted to photograph the artists and their models as we passed by. I expect it was the models rather than the artists who didn't want to be photographed.


  1. Whst a fascinating postcard, spanning two artists across the centuries and across the continents - a lesson that the message may be more important than the image. I too like ending a post with a more recent family photo and your little son looks happy wielding his paintbrush.

  2. As always, a great post and an interesting story.

  3. Imagine! Painting Prince Phillip! Yikes...

  4. That was an interesting story about Pugh whom, I must confess, I had never heard anything at all. I also enjoyed finding out about Miss Petrie.

  5. What a great find that postcard was Jo. Very interesting story.

    1. Indeed and what I want to know Jo is did you squeal when you saw who had written the postcard or did you wander up to the counter nonchalantly and offer them 50 cents for it?

    2. Ha ha, I think it had a price sticker on it saying $2, so that's what I offered, nonchalantly as you suggest.

  6. What an opportunity to paint Prince Phillip - who was a very good-looking fellow both young and older. Charlotte was most definitely a talented artist. Her 'Sunset on the estuary' is beautiful. And the picture of your young son having fun painting is the perfect closing. Give kids free reign with a 'canvas' & chalk, pencils, crayons, a brush and paints and it's anyone's guess what will turn up!

  7. That was a very interesting link to Clifton Pugh's life. I'm sure the museum would love to have your ephemera that refers to the artist's work. I tied to imagine what it was like for your cousin Charlotte to travel to London in the 1920s. The ocean voyage, the change of light from NZ to Britain, the energy of London's metropolis must have really inspired a young artist. Or made them appreciate Home all the more.

  8. Oh Jo - this is so interesting. You've reminded me that my son had to study Clifton Pugh's self portrait at school and then produce his own interpretation of it which I thought was very impressive at the time. Thanks for that reminder. Isn't that a heartbreaking account by Judith of Clif? Beautiful writing. I became quite teary reading it. I love the National Portrait Gallery. It's the best. Didn't know about the connection to Harold Holt. All of this was fascinating reading. Thanks again Jo.

  9. Well spotted Jo. And you've found the perfect place to write about it.

  10. I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS or GENERAL INTEREST in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    Thank you,