Hugh Blaker

Art, at once my heaven and my sin, played me false.

Hugh Blaker ‘Regatta Day, Worthing’ oil, 1896 (Private Collection)

I was an artist. For fifteen years the gods stabbed me with their arrows of progress. For fifteen years I wept and cried to the wanton god of art. For fifteen years my soul was withered like the grass in Autumn. The fifteen years I wandered as a soul in trance. I awoke to find myself little better than a blasted dealer in things I loved of yore.

‘I was an Old Master, born centuries late.’

By his own admission, Blaker lacked the single-mindedness of vision necessary to succeed as an artist. ‘The cause of my failure to “make good” in any single branch of knowledge,’ he wrote in his journal, ‘is that I have too many interests. I was dumped into a generation which did not care a damn for art. I was an Old Master born centuries late. No kid ever had greater equipment. No kid ever faced greater frustration. 

Hugh Blaker ‘Jack’ oil, 1911 (Private Collection) 

Quinten Massys ‘The Ugly Duchess’ c.1513 (National Gallery, London)

‘A blasted dealer in things I loved of yore’

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All my “lovely chickens”, my pictures, were just as nothing in time of financial stress. In the past, although I had to part with them, they laid me hundreds, sometimes thousands, per cent in pounds sterling. Much as I hated selling every hen, such was preferable to finding every hen on my hands, sterile. Although fate decreed that I should become nothing but a loathsome dealer in pictures, the decree was worse when I was left with lovely hens who would not lay. Every hen I ever bought I bought because I loved. But I was left with my loves. Truly an ideal state of existence if you don’t have to eat. But no man can live on love.

Blaker’s ‘Discovery of a Lifetime

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Attrib. Leonardo da Vinci ‘The Isleworth Mona Lisa’ oil on canvas, 1503 (Private Collection) 

Hugh Blaker ‘The Connoisseurs’ conté, 1898 (Aberystwyth University)

Blaker as Connoisseur

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Hugh Blaker