Still Life – Part One: A Blue in June

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Simply, it was a painting of seven apples: an oil on canvas measuring just nineteen centimetres in height and twenty-seven in width. Exquisite. If memory serves, it was overborne by two large and elongated works by Spencer, including Love Among the Nations, painted in 1937. Some hope.

But the diminutive Cezanne seared itself into the cortex, was cross referenced a thousand times with previous experiences, and definitively and categorically stacked.

‘Painting stands for no other end than itself. The artist paints an apple or a head: it is simply a pretext for line and colour, nothing more’

In Cambridge to watch some cricket at Fenner’s and invited to dine that evening at a college High Table, he had been driven from the ground and eventually into the Fitzwilliam by incessant rain. He faced a long, sodden, uncomfortable day.

He was following the 1914 cricket season one hundred years on. In May ’14, freshmen had been playing a trial match. One batsman had made more than two hundred runs – JSF Morrison. Sure enough, he appeared in the Cambridge side later that summer against a background of … of what? Of concern over events in Mexico, gun running in Ireland where Unionists were kicking back against the Home Rule policies of the Liberal Government with the help of the British Army, further socialist gains in the French elections, the unravelling of a radical budget designed to complete the welfare reforms spearheaded by Lloyd George, the women’s issue over suffrage? Not exactly; more against a background of anticipation and expectation now that his Charterhouse days were behind him, of three carefree years a Trinity Man and a Blue in June.

Clive Bell, from the vantage of 1917, wrote in an essay, ‘Before the War’, “In the Spring of 1914 Society [note the capital S] offered the new-comer precisely what the new-comer wanted, not cut-and-dried ideas, still less a perfect civilization, but an intellectual flutter, faint and feverish no doubt, a certain receptivity to new ways of thinking and feeling, a mind at least ajar, and the luxurious tolerance of inherited wealth. Not, I suppose, since 1789, have days seemed more full of promise than those spring days of 1914.”

This was the irony: when those prolific flowering pillars on the horse chestnut trees, that Morrison could not avoid seeing on the boundary as he batted, produced their wondrously polished cache of energy and fecundity, his seniors would be dying on a foreign field some one hundred miles south in a Flanders’ field, yes in tiny, insignificant Belgium.

“I want to conquer Paris with an apple,” Cezanne had said.

“And I with steel and high explosives,” von Molke, the Younger, had echoed.

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