30 April 2013

For once, British politics and art

This blog has pretensions which include UK politics and British art but only occasionally does one post manage to cover the two. Back in February a post about Spielberg’s Lincoln mentioned that Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie, is probably a descendant of Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth. Weeks later, wandering through my local branch of Poundland (a chain in the UK pricing all items at £1, ie about US$1.50 or €1.20) I came across a copy (a lot of copies to be honest) of Cherie’s autobiography, Speaking for Myself. I thought it would be interesting to see if she acknowledged her reputed notorious ancestor – not a mention. But I did come across something which was just as interesting.

Euan Uglow (1932-2000) was a British painter who specialised in the human figure, particularly female nudes, and also still lifes and landscapes. His work in UK public collections (eg Zagi 1981-2 right and owned by the Tate) can be seen on BBC Your Paintings. In her autobiography (pages 62 to 64) Cherie Booth, as she was at the time, explains how she met Uglow and agreed to sit for him:
… [he] handed me what he called "a blue dress" that he wanted me to wear. The blue dress turned out to be just a piece of material he had stitched together, almost like a hip-length waistcoat. It was completely open down the middle. The pose he wanted was very straightforward. I had to have one leg out in front and the other behind, as if I had been caught in the middle of a stride. It had never occurred to me that I would be expected to pose naked, or as good as.  
… During the first few sessions, as I stood desperately trying to hold the pose, I thought, 'What on earth am I doing this for? But at the same time it went through my head that one day I might want my children to know that I wasn't such a dull-o, bluestocking Goody Two-shoes after all.
Eventually other demands on her time forced Booth to give up the sittings:
[Uglow] told me not to worry and that he'd get another dark model to take my place. He had never got round to doing my face, though you could still see it was me. I think he did try to get a replacement, but it didn't work out, so he decided to leave my painting unfinished. It still exists somewhere, but where I don't know. I would love to have it, of course, but his paintings are very valuable, even more so now that he's no longer alive.
There doesn’t seem to be that much mystery about the unfinished painting’s recent location. Earlier this year Striding Nude, Blue Dress 1979-80 was one of the Uglow works on Marlborough Fine Art’s website (below).

Uglow paintings don’t seem to come up at auction very often – I can find nothing comparable to the one Booth sat for since the rather smaller Beautiful Girl Lying Down went for £22000 at Christie’s in 1993. Nonetheless, even at a likely six figure price now, it seems surprising that the Blairs have never bought Striding Nude, Blue Dress given their wealth. A reason might be:
In all the time I was going to Battersea to model for Euan, Tony never knew that I was posing nude. … Tony, when he eventually learned the truth, was very uncomfortable with it. He still is.
But we are told later that the Booths’ first child is called:
… Euan, after Euan Uglow and also a school friend of Tony's who had died far too young. (page 105)

UPDATE 21 MAY 2014 

Lot 97 at Bonhams auction of Modern British and Irish Art on 28 May is listed as Euan Uglow’s Striding Nude, Blue Dress, painted 1978-80, provenance The Artist's Estate and estimated at £60,000 to £80,000.


"Sold for £74,500 inc. premium"

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