In clearing out old papers, I came across reminders of how great a newspaper the Independent used to be. They were a set of double-sided full-colour posters dedicated to great artists. One side consisted of a reproduction of a key work of art by the painter concerned and the other comprised what we would now call thumbnails illustrating a pen-portrait of the artist and his work. These were practically all by Tom Lubbock, the writer and illustrator, who died far too early in January 2011. He was often outspoken - for and against - but always informative and readable. His critique of van Gogh's Chair began:
Self-portraits have adopted many guises. Duerer painted himself as Jesus. Rembrandt painted himself as the apostle Paul. Courbet painted himself as a madman jumping off a cliff. But no one before Van Gogh had painted a self-portrait as a chair.
If you were a chair, what kind of chair would you be> That's the playful question to which this picture is a serious answer. It's staged like a portrait, the chair by itself centred, filling the frame.
He did not hold back of Rembrandt:
If just one painter had to be beamed out into the universe, to advertise to the alien empires what a deeply admirable life-form we humans are, who should it be? Leonardo? Michelangelo? Van Gogh? Picasso? No, there can be only one candidate: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. It might have surprised him. But this moderately successful 17th-century Dutch painter has matured, over the centuries, into the artist who represents the very best of us. Supremely humane, but only human, Rembraddt is pretty well M Humanity, a kind of mortal god.
Over ,the years, I should have refreshed my knowledge of this part of our civilisation. Instead, they were stashed away when I moved to Skewen and now they will all have to go to recycling. However, it was good to renew my acquaintance with this marvellous series and the man behind it.