She looked at the canvas; it was blurred with a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
|Gateway to Cannon Hill from Heath Drive.|
Acrylic on canvas
This particular vision, not quite finished but still a work in progress, is an illustration for NW6 and All That, the book Kathleen and I are writing about West Hampstead. I began the painting two or three weeks ago in the belated blaze of spring, working occasionally en plein air in our suburban patch of Eden.
|Photo by EP|
And now, by way of a sneak preview of our book, Kathleen will tell you about an interesting literary figure who spent an idyllic Edwardian childhood in West Hampstead Avenue and knew intimately the thoroughfares of Cannon Hill and Kidderpore Avenue (home to the wealthy dye merchant Charles Cannon who, in the 1870s, converted an old footpath into Cannon Hill).
The extravagantly named Vivian de Sola Pinto (1895-1969) was a leading scholarly authority on D. H. Lawrence and appeared for the defence in the Lady Chatterley Trial. He had been Siegfried Sasson’s second-in-command while they served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in France during the First World War and he appears as ‘Velmore’ in Sassoon’s Sherston Memoirs. He was also a friend of the Sitwells and Robert Graves and moved very much in the artistic and cultural circles of the high modernist period.
|Pinto (standing second from left) at Garsington with Ottoline Morrell’s |
daughter Julian, E. M. Forster, the Bloomsbury historian Goldsworthy
Lowes Dickinson, and the canadian poet Frank Prewett.
|Photo by EP|
In his memoirs, The City That Shone, Pinto describes the bucolic beauties surrounding and just beyond ‘Heathcroft’ and an epiphany he experienced one sunset, looking out over the rooftops of West Hampstead. But he also describes the sidings, bits of suburban waste land, new mansion blocks, and ‘glimpses of the great world of the Poor which surrounded on every side the comfortable island of bourgeois security’ on which he lived. His is thus a unique account of how, as late as 1905, the old rural hamlet of West-end and the new railway suburb of West Hampstead co-existed. Here is just a sample of his vivid prose poem to a vanished world:
On the ‘other side of the road’, as we called it, i.e. the side opposite to our house, there were, in those days, open fields where cattle grazed. They were separated from the road only by a wooden fence over which a very small boy could easily climb. Beautiful undulating meadows, they were full of deep grass with plenty of buttercups, dandelions and daisies in the summer and shaded by hawthorn bushes, great oaks and elms. In my early boyhood ‘the other side of the road’ was an enchanted country for me, where I could wander through acres of unspoilt meadow land and enjoy the thrill of squeezing through gaps in hedges and climbing over stiles to find myself in new and exciting surroundings. I can still shut my eyes and dream that I am lying in the deep grass of those meadows on a summer day and listening to the hum of insects, the crowing of distant cocks and other pleasant country noises. …
It was a fine evening in early spring and I was walking down Heath Drive with another child, probably my sister … There was a fine view to the west across the house-tops of West Hampstead and Kilburn with the usual grey haze over London, and above it the glowing splendour of the setting sun. In that grey hazy distance illuminated by the soft sunset light I saw a vision enclosed in a kind of circular frame. I described it to myself as a shining city full of people moving about among wonderful, coloured flames, though I knew that this was wholly inadequate description. I did not merely see this place but I seemed to be in it and to be actually close to the ‘shining people’ and one of them.