Portrait of the artist as a young dude

I found the picture below in one of those protective sleeves we use for storing photographs and immediately thought I could use it on the blog. There was a contact sheet of pictures from the same photo shoot which were sufficiently large to scan and use as well.Annigoni at Chelsea Reach

It isn’t often I can make a post around a single image but this is one of those pictures. It has the slightly misty background of the river bed, the barges which look like abandoned warships, the mud, the metal detritus in the foreground on which sits the young artist sketching (or pretending to be sketching)  and looking very fifties-Italian in his sharp shoes and coat, a bit like a character in La Dolce Vita or one of those moody art films. Or maybe a little later in the sixties – early Mad Men perhaps.

I can’t claim to know what Bignell was thinking here. I imagine that this was a commission – follow the up and coming artist around and take some atmospheric pictures for a magazine feature. Copy (8) of Contact sheet

Looking east you see the proper houseboats, and the embankment wall, and that the artist wasn’t just pretending to sketch.

Copy (10) of Contact sheet

The background is almost disappearing into the mist and looks a little like the background a photographer would have seen a hundred years before.

Copy (3) of Contact sheet

This is a good shot of the shoes. A shoe historian could probably date the pictures from them. You can imagine the session proceeeding as Bignell tries different angles.

Copy (5) of Contact sheet

Take your coat off, you don’t want to get it muddy.

This was a favourite spot for Bignell, not too far from his studio. He loved pictures of the river especially on the transient zone of the foreshore.

Copy (12) of Contact sheet

Look at me now. Is that a better one, I hear him asking himself.

Copy (9) of Contact sheet

A bit of pose striking here, using the barge as a dramatic place to sit looking visionary. Is it my imagination or does he look a bit cold? Time to go indoors.

We’re back inside now in the artist’s makeshift studio.

Copy (2) of Contact sheet

Empty bottles, sketches on the floor, a telescope, the same misty scene outside  and the reflection in the mirror caught nicely by Bignell.

Copy of Contact sheet

Now just look out of the window. You could probably sequence these pictures the other way round and tell a story with the artist seeing the mist on the river and going out to make a sketch on the foreshore. So that’s the post nearly wrapped up.

Now, here’s the thing. On the back on the first photo is written “Annigonni?” And in the packet were some other pictures of an older man also labelled Annigonni in Bignell’s handwriting.

Here’s one of them. Annigonni is in Douglas Anderson’s studio in Glebe Place, cigarette in hand.

Annigoni in Douglas Andreson's studio Glebe Place 1965 or 1961

So I took it for granted that the pictures on the foreshore were of the young Annigonni. Bignell had evidently known Annigoni quite well and had many pictures and negatives of him.

My knowledge of Pietro Annigoni at that point was simply that he was an Italian artist who was well known for painting portraits, the most famous of which was his 1956 romantic painting of the young Queen Elizabeth wrapped in a dark cloak with a royal insignia on it.

There’s always a bit of fact checking to do when writing a blog. Due diligence you might say. And the more I found out about the life of Annigonni the more I began to wonder about that first photo. The pencilled “Annigonni?” on the back was looking more and more tentative.

According to Annigonni’s autobiography he didn’t come to London till he was 40, in 1950. Is the man in the picture that age, or up to ten years older? Probably not. And the self-portrait of Annigonni done in 1954 doesn’t look much like our artist on the foreshore.

Look again at Annigonni in a picture from the 1960s. Bignell has captured him looking thoughful and shrewd.Annigoni trafalgar studios, manresa stamp

But is this also him?

Copy (6) of Contact sheet

I’m inclined to think not.  Something about the hairline, and the eyes. I showed the pictures around the library and the verdict was unanimous. So the sharp looking young artist has to be reclassified as unknown. He’s in good company. There is a whole box labelled Bignell – Unidentified People downstairs in the archives room (on Bay X appropriately).

I still like the photos enough to write a post about them. Sometimes pictures speak for themselves. Sometimes you’d like them to say a little bit more.

Postscript

I am of course open to suggestions as to the identity of the unknown artist. Or do you think it is Annigonni? This post was just about written when I began to have doubts and I didn’t want to waste it as next week’s isn’t written yet and I seem to be on a bit of a roll with posts about artists. It seems odd that I now have no idea who the young artist was but that is one of the traps of photography. Because a photographic  image is as near to permanent as we can make it we imagine it’s all we need. And the photographer thinks he won’t ever forget the identity of the person in the picture. But these crucial pieces of information do slip away like the people in an old family album who nobody recognizes now.

Postscript to the postscript- April 2015

We’re now sure that the young dude is Regis de Bouvier de Cachard. (See comments) Reader Bob King has sent this scan of one of his Chelsea pictures:

De Cachard's The Flower Barrow - Copy


13 responses to “Portrait of the artist as a young dude

  • Chris Pain

    Hi Dave! Nice to have a chat with you at the library the other day and thanks for finding me that warden’s souvenir magazine: it was very useful.

    As regards the above, I agree that, despite a vague resemblance, the artist sketching on the riverbank is not Pietro Annigoni. Actually I think I can identify him thanks to … your own blog. I was having a look back among your older posts when I came across this one from May of this year:

    It is labelled “Regin de Cerchard and his wife 1955” but as no such artist exists I believe it to be a photograph of (Compte) Régis (de Bouvier) de Cachard. Here is a link to the only other photograph I can find of him on the internet:
    http://www.regisbouvierdecachard.com/private.html

    As for the date, I published a link to this blog entry on my “World’s End Chelsea” facebook page and style writer Paul Gorman wrote the foloowing comment:
    “The boots look to me to be Denson’s Baba boots or a variant – these were launched around 1960 and were very popular within a few years – also known as the Beatle boot.
    So that would date the session to 63-5, which makes sense. There are shots of the similarly square built Tom Jones in similar attire – Cuban heeled Chelsea boots, slimline slacks and roll neck – in the same period.
    Is this chap a model for an all purpose rugged young ‘artist’ maybe? It’s not him but he has the physical vibe of a young Paolozzi (also, of course, Chelsea resident).
    Btw I wrote about the Baba boot here: http://rockpopfashion.com/blog/?p=1263
    Best
    PG”

    All the best
    Chris Pain

    • Dave Walker

      Chris
      Good to meet you in person. Once again I think your detective work has come up with the answer.Regis de Cachard does look like our man. I’ll have to see if I can find any more photos of him by Bignell. It’s not only the man himself but the picture he’s showing his wife which is definitely in a similar style / subject matter to the picture the artist by the foreshore.
      Dave

  • Lucretia

    This one was a fun puzzle! Fortunately, Annigoni did a number of self-portraits throughout his life.
    While this gentleman resembles him in the “bowed upper lip & cleft chin” categories… There’s one huge telltale that makes little difference no matter weight nor age. Without surgery, the shape of our ears’ cartilage doesn’t alter. While they (and the nose) continue growing throughout our lifetimes, it’s the size and lobe length that alter.

    This self portrait weighed against all of the pics above with ears convinces me it’s not Annigoni in the pics. The ears in all of the self-portraits maintain the sane shape… But the are not the same as our mystery artist.
    The bridges of their noses are similar, but the tip in our unknown is slightly upturned while Annigoni’s points down.
    I could not find a portrait or picture of Annigoni without those prominent sideburns either… And his hair is always combed back, no semi-pompadoured style like this one.

    In other words? I’m betting with you on this. Fun shots, but not Annigoni.

    • Dave Walker

      Lucretia
      Thanks for your comment and the link to the self portrait. The more I looked at pictures of Annigonni the more I thought he wasn’t as conventional looking as our man on the foreshore although it was the dating that bothered me most and as you can see from Chris Pain’s comment the shoes put the photo in the 1960s. Your expertise with the nose and ears makes it certain I think.
      Dave

  • Michael Gall

    Nancy Drew would be proud of you all.

    Another excellent post Dave.

  • Benjamin silver

    The unknown artist is quite well known the me and is absolutely comte Regis bouvier de cachard when he lived in Chelsea and the blonde woman is his second wife

  • Bob Ring

    Ah! Maybe I can Dropbox you the photograph of my painting by the “unknown artist”.

    “The Flower Barrow”, signed “De Cachard 63″

  • geraniumcat

    Just found this and thought I would add a piece of information: Regis Bouvier de Cachard was a close friend of John Bignell’s when he (de Cachard) was living in Chelsea, and gave him a painting of Sloane Square and a print of one of his mythological subjects, Pasiphae, both of which I now own (I have a rather tenuous family connection to Bignell).

    • Dave Walker

      This is interesting. Bignell seems to have known an enormous number of people in Chelsea. (There are lots of unidentified pictures in the collection). I wonder if de Cachard was an influence on some of Bignell’s stranger pictures? (I’ve put a few on the blog but i’m slowly collecting some of his odder pictures for a post of their own.)
      Dave

      • geraniumcat

        Yes, Bignell did know a lot of people – his partner was an actress and they moved in a huge circle of theatrical and arty people. I think another influence would have been the author Mervyn Peake who, with his wife (artist Maeve Gilmore) was also a friend.

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