Shane – the Artist’s Dilemma: Julius Ceasar Ibbetson

A contract: to paint a picture from Cable Street, Lancaster, and before the frontage of the German Sugar House.

The precise location/viewpoint is to be decided upon by the artist. To include the business premises and product of the esteemed alderman Mr John Brockband Esquire, Ship builder… with civic views and edifices of merit and prominence, with visible workshop and roadside debris omitted.

Many an esquire in a fine townhouse set out on the road to success from the road side shack … So we’ll see about that.

Few ship builders are mariners and neither sees romance in wreckage.

And this century has populated our way-fare with more than any century previous.

The things one hopes to convey… and the stories that a soul is in the need to tell.

We are in agreement are we not; that there are a great many ways to paint a picture?

On the contrary, we must remember in this, the year 1794, our betters would have us behave otherwise.

Sir Joshua Reynolds “Two Years departed” still asserts from the tomb of St Pauls his will and maintains that there be one path only to aesthetic refinement. Copy the masters. Seek out and draw from casts of the Antique and study daily the life model.

Sir Joshua would have us scratch, then daub then chisel from life all day and every day – and who amongst us would dare to question?

So postpone the discourse of living a life, even the blessed one of an Englishman and join the coffle caravan of academicians.  Baaaaa!

“I was right to change that ewe in the foreground to a Boar and an obstinate one too.” It is signed!

“Do not be mistaken dear friend. The academy will admit a picture of mine, but admit the man, nay.

Though I have thrice exhibited, in 85 with my “View of the North Fleet” (in size one Roman Pace by one Yard) with it I claimed as my own the Seascape genre. And previously in 83 a portrait for George Biggin an esquire I permit myself to call “a good friend.

Size: 2 Cubits by 1 Ell.  The London Telegraph; I quote “a milestone in the development of an artist who is entirely “self-taught”, faint praise? Slander!

What of the apprenticeship as a ships painter on the Wyke? Are the docks of Hull not an education for any man?

Furthermore, same borough, The New Theatre on Finkle Street, One season as a scenery painter and the establishment is granted the Kings patent and becomes the Theatre Royal.

The Land, the Sea and the imagination were the instruments of my education, Sir!

Is it ever possible that, one day, a single key, that of human merit, may unlock the citadel gate to the higher slopes of privilege?

Occasionally a hero from humble beginnings might vault that castle keep.

Men of science might aviate the battlements as “almost” occurred, here, Last Race day when a passing Italian, a Vincenzo Lunardis demonstrated his lighter than air balloon within those very castle walls, up there on that hill. A sulphurous combining of oil of Vitriol and Iron grindings produced a flying gas which was collected within a voluminous up turned Chianti fiasco of oiled silk with its necessary yet precarious reed basket retained below.

Balloon Flight

Curious is it not that the stench of hell is thus essential in order to ascend to the heavens?

In this story, lies a cautionary tale: ingressus est palatium, et vinctum

To invade a palace, may only achieve an imprisonment.

And so the grand Lancaster balloon experiment faltered, though I know not why. Those jail walls were not to be breeched.

Perhaps Lunardis may return, I think Mr Gillow hopes so, he sponsored the spectacle then instructed his factory to produce a range of balloon backed chairs and manufacture cannot easily be halted.

That same year in London my panorama painting of the ascension of good friend George (not spiritually you understand), I mean of course his flight with the great Latin aviator of our previous acquaintance; in his grand balloon device and by royal permission of the King. Though if god in his wisdom will allow a fanatical Italian to ascend to heaven and return after 2 hours, it pains me to comprehend how a mere monarch might neither prevent it nor with certainty permit it. Perhaps there is gain in being seen to give permit to the unstoppable.

And though my painting was another first – a picture of a flying apparatus no less – at the Royal Academy and was exhibited to both critical and popular acclaim, a fellowship eluded me, again.

If only I could become an esquire like Mr Gillow?

You see in this kingdom the one great club to which we all belong is “the hierarchy”.

It starts from the ground and rather like maestro Vincenzo’s balloon it carries on to the greatest of heights. To begin with, we have the simple name, plain “Julius” “Caesar” “Aye” not so plain, I hear you; it is the empirical cross I reluctantly bare. Would not Rex have served the same purpose? Sadly, Tragically! No.

Julius Caesar Ibbotson was born into heartbreak, my dear brave mother died before the surgeon’s namesake cuts brought me into this world and though I despise the appellation; perhaps providence baptised me to serve a new empire.

Moving on –

The Hierarchy, second we have; let’s suppose “Master Julius” to denote slight pedigree and accumulation of wisdom and then we view the first summit in “Mr Ibbotson”. Above “Mr”, we have “Esquire. The scale continues as upper classes of England join on, bringing with them the necessary hot air and ascending in various steps each more glorious than the last.  the Knight; “Sir Julius”. Then still rising we have the baronet, the laird, the viscount, the Earl; onwards & upwards we have, the marquis, the duke, the prince of the blood royal, and then; the cherry atop this trifle, His Majesty the king.

And so by degrees we ascend from the people to the middle class to the baronage, from the baronage to the peerage, and from the peerage to royalty.

And alas this is why; no self-taught son of a Yorkshire haberdasher is yet to be welcomed in to that esteemed fellowship on the Strand.

Should such an event unfold, how would I enter? Well as “Don Vincenzo” has recently taken flight to Sicily after an unfortunate aeronautical accident in Glasgow then my preferred mode would be that of the ingenious Scotsman William Symington to voyage London bound upon his new steam powered sail-less vessel (alderman Broadband calls them smoking devil ships).

Until that day, I will employ all methods and either by old world magic or new scientific practice in order to render a picture that formulates somewhere between what lies within my heart and the will or more significantly pocket book of my patron.

Should a scene require the teased caress of a romancer I will engage my finest sable thus.

It may compel fevered thrashings, arm blown by the tempest of violent muse; my brush, transmogrified; a prophetic staff of unfettered endeavour.

I will confess to seeing bliss, beauty and wisdom in the “untutored” crafting’s of the everyday folk of England.

Yonder ship may not be, but many have been; named Minerva after a Roman goddess of wisdom, art, trade and strategy.  See that shed; that is where they carve the figure heads from local pear trees that float down the river Lune from the Perry orchards of Halton.

The lad is deaf but he must hear instructions from angels as his hands form such beauty as would put Michelangelo himself on his guard

In there I have seen an apprentice to the carving master with a rare talent. The lad is deaf but he must hear instructions from angels as his hands form such beauty as would put Michelangelo himself on his guard and though he is without the book learnt knowledge of any academy, what he can scribe in wood and lead paint would make the greatest philosopher weep at the “unschooled” poetry it conveyed. Oh and his head figures, Sirens, goddesses and mer-women of west India mahogany, breasts a flush and staining their corsets like the midday bow-wave of the Lune and blue eyes that glint like the evening sun on that same river.

In works of my own fabrication, I find gratification in both accident and laboured gamut and am never knowingly aware which might be resultant of contemplation or which of coincidence.

I quote my empirical namesake –

“Creating is the essence of life and experience is the teacher of all things”

Julius Caesar; now he was rather more than an esquire…

1800 and a new century is barely a decade away and there is still much to learn and in the name of progress, much we seem required to unlearn

But enough of my futile commentary and back to the contract at hand.

Here we have the painting, a window, a voyage arrested, still, poised between tempest and treasure.

And the  Artist; part mercenary, part philosopher, shackled twins cast adrift, flotsam to the whims of mercantile fashion and jetsam among the vanities of this golden age.  I standing before you a mere picture maker, a likewise Caesar, Julius Ibbotson, Master of eyewash and mirage at your service, Son of mighty Yorkshire, Servant of England, a legionnaire in Lancashire a county lesser in size than its reach and influence would imply. Yes, you are witness to a county marriage of convenience between Yorkshire’s divine genius and Lancashire’s thrusting enterprise.

In a world where Sage and nincompoop are found at both the high table of Government or at a stool in the taverns yard,

Where are we headed? Who best to navigate? Could the artist be our eye glass? May the scientist be our sextant?

Whom, The crown or the people, is our purpose?

Of this view in say two centuries plus a score year and three hence, what might alter? And what will remain?

Ibbetson, Julius Caesar; Lancaster from Cable Street; Lancaster City Museums;

Illustration by Len Grant.