The Preacher as a Young Boy
I was five and it involved two or three trips to London, to an artist’s studio in Holland Park. I remember the smell of turps and Welsh Rarebit for lunch and taking an afternoon stroll around the park a with a funny fat spaniel.
I also remember a row of coloured glass jugs along a high shelf up by a window and spending a lot of the time staring at those jugs and listening to the Beatrix Potter stories of Peter Rabbit, which he played over and over again on a record player which sat on the floor in the corner of his studio.
“Now, my dears,” old Mrs. Rabbit said one morning to Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter, “you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.”
I didn’t much care for the sound of the McGregors. And as I sat there looking up at those coloured jugs I wondered just what old Mr Rabbit had done to deserve to end up in a pie. And poor Mrs Rabbit left all alone underneath the root of her fir-tree. I wondered how Peter Rabbit and his sibling rabbits would manage. Would they avenge his death? They were merely rabbits and Mr McGregor was a horrible frightening scotsman.
It was a confusing time for me. My father was also a scot. My portrait had been intended as a present for him, along with that of my brother. But he had just recently died, quite suddenly, on the train coming home from big old bad old London town.
And as I sat there looking up at those jugs, sitting for the artist, listening to the tale of Peter Rabbit, and wondering whether Welsh Rarebit involved rabbits in any way at all, I was also troubled by the thought that I too might end up in a pie if I weren’t very careful.
Sad and confused and sitting in front of this gentle artist, I felt his steady gaze on me as I stared into the middle distance and thought about rabbit pie.
But looking at the portrait today – I am now the same age as the artist was at the time he painted it – I see myself as a five year old through these steadily attentive eyes and I am strangely comforted.
Here are some other portraits by Carlos Luis Sancha (1920-2001)
And here is a self portrait of the artist himself:
And a photograph of the artist in his studio:
And here’s the preacher as a young boy: