15 July 2013


Life etches itself onto our faces as we grow older, showing our violence, excesses or kindnesses.
Rembrandt is so deeply mysterious that he says things for which there are no words in any language. Rembrandt is truly called a magician … that’s not an easy calling. 
Van Gogh 

Fortnightly Post’ has been something of a misnomer lately, the reason being that Kathleen and I have been busily engaged in a special publishing project of which we may reveal more anon. However, we also have a brand new film in the works, to be posted next week, and in the meantime offer, by way of a prelude, a summer reprise of our Masks and Faces film, along with some other titbits we hope you’ll enjoy.

St George in stained glass by
Clayton and Bell.
Photo by EP
In the great Babel that is London one is confronted, on any given day, with a sea of faces, in its streets, on buses and the Underground, and in its solemn and secular temples – each face with its own mystery and life’s story. 

Artistically, too, one is constantly surprised and intrigued by faces – the strikingly modern painted with timeless technique;

An early 17th-century painting at the V&A.
Photo by EP

the deceptively ancient juxtaposed with the sleek lines of ultra modernity;

Emily Young’s sculpture Fana, Etruscan goddess of the Forest, at Neo Bankside.
Photo by EP

the genuinely ancient, suspended and frozen in the ecstasy of a long-forgotten dance;

Dancing Satyr, 4th-century BC, found in 1998 off the coast of Sicily.
Part of the Royal Academy’s Bronze exhibition.
Photo by EP

and the comfortably familiar in contemplation of the unfamiliar:

The statue of Sir John Betjeman looks up at the new giant installation,
Clouds: Meteoros by Lucy and Jorge Orta, floating above St Pancras.

Self-Portrait with Two Circles, ca 1665–69
Today marks the 407th birthday of that master of the human face, Rembrandt, whom Van Gogh declared truly a magician. I have said before that my proclivity for self-portraiture is attributable to the fact that I’m a cheap and patient model, but I take heart, too, from the fact that Rembrandt was an inveterate self-portraitist. I am fortunate to live only a couple of miles from his Self-Portrait with Two Circles at Kenwood House and a mere Tube journey away, on the Jubilee line, from his beautiful portrait of his sixteen-year-old son Titus. The latter shines like a good deed in a naughty world amidst the gilt and splendour of the Wallace Collection.

Titus, The Artist’s Son, ca 1657

Miniature by Girard, ca 1850
Also in the Wallace collection is the face of a celebrated Victorian beauty who features in our book on West Hampstead, a most colourful figure. Her name was Laura Thistlethwayte and she had a long and intimate friendship with Prime Minister Gladstone who likened her history to ‘a story from the Arabian Nights’. Her maternal grandfather was satirized by Thackeray as Lord Steyne in Vanity Fair. As a very young teenager she is said to have become a shop girl and part-time courtesan in Belfast. She them moved to Dublin where she was briefly on the stage and became involved with Oscar Wilde’s father. By 1850 she had moved to London where she caught the attention of the Prime Minister of Nepal, in London on a state visit, who is supposed to have spent a quarter of a million pounds on her. Edwin Landseer’s name was also linked with hers, and she is said to have helped him sculpt one of the lions in Trafalgar Square.

She married a Captain Frederick Thistlethwayte and lived with him in a house in Grosvenor Square. At some point she became an evangelical preacher, and took possession of Woodbine Cottage at West End Green in the early 1880s (her husband died in 1887) – a cottage ‘still large enough to support her pet deer’ – and it was there that she died in 1894.

I leave you, for now, with a small gathering of faces in modern-day West Hampstead (and, at its centre, a modern-day resident), just a stone’s throw from where Mrs Thistlethwayte’s deer roamed.

Photo by EP


  1. That film has always been one of my favourites of yours ...

    The talk of faces puts in mind a friend of mine, in her sixties, who was asked by a well-meaning niece if she mightn't consider a facelift, or Botox, or just about anything to remove the lines. She looked the younger woman dead in the eye and said "I've spent 65 years acquiring these lines - why would I want to get rid of them?"

  2. In the faces we find ourselves and remember our place in the world! Thank you for this lovely post.