'The Latin Lesson'

In this video Psiche Hughes, author of the book 'Beryl Bainbridge; Artist, Writer, Friend' talks about Beryl's painting 'Colin Haycraft, Dr Samuel Johnson and Me, Learning Latin in Gloucester Crescent'.

'Colin Haycraft, Dr Samuel Johnson and Me, Learning Latin in Gloucester Crescent'. Begun in early 1990s and finished in early 2000s. © The Estate of Beryl Bainbridge, 2012. Kindly reproduced by Thames and Hudson Ltd


Psiche: This painting is called, well I call it ‘The Latin Lesson’ and it’s a painting that has a long history.

When Beryl’s first grandchildren, who were born in 1980 and 83, went to secondary school, Beryl wanted them to learn Latin. So we are talking about 1993 or 4 and they weren’t teaching Latin in their school. Beryl was sure that Latin was the epitome of culture so she asked the publisher Colin Haycraft from Duckworth to give her grandchildren Latin lessons and she went along. That’s how the painting originated.

Then the painting changed, the children disappeared, there was a scene of Colin and Beryl having some kind of altercation. Hence we still retain Colin’s admonishing finger.

Then finally when she wrote ‘According to Queeney’ she became involved with the figure of Dr Johnson. She introduced Dr Johnson in the painting so there is Beryl, Colin, Dr Johnson, the usual paraphernalia that goes in a picture; the pope, the flowers, the doilies, the bottle etcetera. Dr Johnson is showing a miniature of a Mrs Thrale portrait, such as done by Joshua Reynolds.

Then in the background there are all sorts of other figures. Here is Queeney, that Beryl’s eye is looking at and there is a figure of some kind of pope, very much within the Catholic tradition, dressed up, because Beryl had started a religious ‘career’ as a Catholic, she changed and reverted and so on. Obviously he’s admonishing, preaching, possibly in Latin. Because Beryl always felt that Latin should have been the language of the church. I said to her “But you know people don’t understand Latin any more”. Her answer was “All the better because religion ought to be mysterious”.