Seaside humour, Elizabethan-style; a curious panel picture

Last week we bought this painting, a small 10 x 11 inch panel of a lady having a pee in a hedge on her way to market as we can see from the basket (or on her way back? Perhaps it is an evening scene). All-in-all an extremely unusual subject. There’s a bit of overpaint especially in the red skirt; the sheep is a bit rubbed, but none the worse for it, and its casual munching is captured perfectly; and the bosky undergrowth is superb and looks pretty much intact. I think it’s great. A real piece of the late Sixteenth Century.

JMZI Tudor Lady and sheep

It was catalogued at auction (Nigel Ward September 12th lot 2106) as ‘Follower of Pieter Bruegel the elder’, and at some point long ago someone has written ‘Brueghel’ on the back, but it could easily have been painted in this country. The lady is dressed very like the tradesmen’s wives seen dancing in Joris Hofnaegel’s Bermondsey Wedding 1569 – 70.

Joris_Hoefnagel_Fete_at_Bermondsey_c_1569

(c) Marquess of Salisbury Collection, Hatfield House.

I saw Hofnaegel’s painting when it was exhibited at the NPG’s superb Elizabeth and her people exhibition two years ago. Dr Tarnya Cooper said that it was ‘a remarkable painting, because it shows all of Elizabethan life and society,’ and looking at it is like being beamed back in time. It’s one of those paintings you can hear and smell as well as see. You feel as though you could walk into it.

The painting at Nigel Ward brings the past to life equally well. It’s lavatory-humour rather than Hofnaegel’s rich social tapestry, but like this late Thirteenth Century ‘shitting man with two dogs’ misericord at St Mary’s Fairford, it shows that that people find the same things funny across the centuries, from the Middle Ages to the Donald Gill seaside postcards that you could still buy in Paignton when I was there thirty-some years ago.

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(c)Paul Dykes

I think it’s irresistible, and I’m pretty sure I could spend a lifetime in this business and never see something quite like this again.

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