Every Christmas, my maternal grandparents used to give me the Rupert Bear Annual, and I delved again into the affairs of Rupert Bear, Bill Badger, the mysterious and enchanting Tiger Lily (these were in the days before Chinese Restaurants brought us Sweet and Sour Pork and the other culinary delights of San Francisco), and all their friends. I read with never failing pleasure the narratives encapsulated into those memorable couplets, the iambs marching inexorably onwards to the hilarious bathos of the predictable rhymes.
What I didn't know as a toddler was that the charming and accessible artwork was the product of one Alfred Bestall (1892-1986). If you live in Oxford you must not miss the tiny but exquisite exhibition of his work in Bodley, just inside the Proscholium entrance and on the right. Where you will not just meet up again tantum post lapsum temporis with the inhabitants of Nutwood, but will see other examples of the work of a draughtsman who perfectly embodied the style and spirit of the interwar years. There is one little watercolour which is, as we say, to die for. Titled The Coffee Stall, it shows a gathering of flappers and their male appendages, at dawn after a fancy dress ball, refreshing themselves as the London proletariat look sympathetically on. Don't miss the girl on the left who sways away from her escort to light the cigarette in her holder from that of a bulky member of the Lower Orders. Don't miss any of them.
It's worth a hundred Picassos or Monets.
4 December 2010
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The name Rupert leads one to remember the dashing cavalier Prince Rupert,or, in his native land,Rupprecht, and this in turn leads the mind to race ahead to Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, field marshal and commander of Army Group Rupprecht in the First War, opponent of the Nazis thereafter (members of his immediate family were sent to concentration camps although he eluded their grasp), and, to close the loop, Jacobite pretender, as Robert I and IV.
God bless the King: God save our Faith's Defender;
God bless (no harm in blessing) the Pretender
But who Defender is, and who is King,
God bless my soul! That's quite another thing!
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