I don't intentionally begin every post with a confession but for the second time in a row, here we go: I'm a bit rubbish when it comes to friendships. By this I mean that I massively overestimate how attached other people are to me and have in the past mistaken acquaintances, colleagues and random strangers for friends. I have some absolutely marvellous friends (hello if you are reading this), who I count myself fortunate to have, but I obviously have a problem recognising, distinguishing and generally getting friendship right. So, as always, I turned to Victorian art for wisdom and to help me get this whole business of friendship straight...
|A Friend in Need John Robertson Reid|
I'm not sure this counts, as he isn't so much a friend, more of an errant child whose hat has fallen off. Mind you, there is a suspicious boy lurking off to the right who might have given the crying boy a snowball to the face and so what our 'friend' really needs is to use the woman as a human shield. Charming.
|Playmates (1866) Arthur Boyd Houghton|
Do you have to be friends with the person you play with? No sniggering at the back. I remember being left, pre-school, to play with some decidedly unfriendly children by my mother, including one girl whose idea of fun was to see how many times she could bite me before I made it back to the sitting room. The dog looks fairly hacked off as he is about to get little girl feet shoved into him at any point and then the other one will start banging that damn drum again...
|The Fair Friend (1840) Charles Baxter|
Well, I'm sure she is a very good friend indeed to sit still and be painted. Do you think artists make an effort to befriend attractive people, just in case they are short of a model? I'm guessing it's from the quote from Shakespeare - 'To me, fair friend, you can never be old, For as you were when first your eye I ey'd, Such seems your beauty still.' (Sonnet 104). That's a splendid sentiment and very true, that those we know and love the longest remain like they were when you first met them. One of my oldest friends has a little sister who I still think of as being about five years old, but then I remember she is the same age as my husband...
|Best Friends (1908) John George Brown|
So far, no real images of people being friends to solve the whole conundrum for me. Hang on though, here's an image of 'best friends'! It's the special friendship between this little boy and his best mate, Bob the dog-faced boy. Okay, I suspect Bob is actually a big fat terrier. As the owner of a big fat terrier, I agree, they are very friendly...
|True Friends (1900) John George Brown|
I wonder if John George Brown was making some sort of comment on the relationship between boot-blacks and their dogs, maybe making a poignant statement about the vulnerability of child-workers. Maybe Brown just really liked terriers...
|His Only Friend (1871) Briton Riviere|
Actually, Brown is not the only one to see that man's, well, boy's best friend is a dog. They have so much in common - both are a big ragged, neither has shoes. Rather than a terrier, Riviere has gone with a mongrel, the least posh of all dogs. Nowadays it would be given a made up name like a cockerpoo or a jaffie and cost a fortune. We have a 'jaffa-whip', which is a cross between a jack russell, a staffie and a whippet. Behold the majestic beast!
Okay, so I made 'jaffa-whip' up. Blossom is a proper mongrel, whose mum was a posh Jack Russell from Windsor, who got out one night and brought home trouble if you know what I mean. She is our Battersea Dogs Home girl and is indeed one of my best friends. She puts up with me typing all the time, balancing books on her if she is on my lap and being asked art history questions. I put up with her wind. It's a fairly equal relationship.
|His Only Friend (1875) John Dollman|
How bad is his music if he is locked up in stocks and only the dog likes him? Flipping heck, that's harsh. Also, if he has been locked up for bad busking, why have they left him his lute? Don't encourage him! The dog is there saying 'Go on, do Stairway to Heaven! They'll love it...' Maybe that dog isn't his friend after all. Friends don't let friends play bad lute in public.
|Cronies (1884) Buckley Ousey|
I was a little puzzled by the title of this painting to start with as 'crony' doesn't tend to have cuddly overtones these days, but I now know it originally comes from the Greek khronios meaning 'long-lasting' so just refers to an old friend. This leads me on to wonder if it is the couple chatting outside that are the 'cronies' rather than the little girl and her dog, neither of whom look as if they have been around that long. As the child and dog are closer to us then it seems to imply they are the friends who will be friends forever, or maybe it is saying that when they grow up, they will be two old women gossiping over the back fence. Not sure how that works when one of them is a dog.
|Staunch Friends (1859) William Frederick Yeames|
Just to come over all Grey Gardens, there is no better friend than a staunch friend, obviously. At least this one is not a dog and is pretty much a person, albeit a hairy one. I've worked with less competent people than a monkey in a hat, in fact some co-workers have left me wondering if they would be able to place a hat on their head successfully seeing as they mistake arse for elbow so often. I once worked with someone whose only discernible work-skill was the ability to see through glass. Sorry, I'm just jealous of Yeames' positive work relationship. Mind you, do colleagues actually count as friends? This one has got me in trouble a few times. I think I have learned it is possible to be friends with colleagues but colleagues should never automatically be counted as friends, especially in working hours. Unless they are monkeys. Monkeys are always your friends. Just look at BJ McKay and his best friend Bear, who was a monkey, not a bear. I am digressing, and apart from monkeys and dogs, I am no closer to finding out about friends...
|An Old Friend Failing (1880) Haynes King|
So is her teapot broken or is it empty? I'm guessing it has a hole in it, which is indeed a serious matter in this country. No-one likes an incontinent teapot, very embarrassing indeed. I can understand her distress because I hang on to pieces of cookware far longer than I should because of sentimental attachment. I have a massive plastic fork thing, for stirring sauces and stir-fries, and the handle is three-parts melted patches, but I hang onto it because it has served me well over the last seventeen years and I will not abandon it now. Not many of the people I know would catch fire for me accidentally while making a spagetti bolognaise. That's proper devotion.
So I guess that is my problem when it comes to friendship: I know where I am with animals and inanimate objects, but people are a mystery and leave me in a right old pickle. Victorian art seems to back me up on this. I can find plenty of pictures of rivalry and romance but friendship that isn't dog or cookware-based is a bit thin on the ground. Maybe that's the point, maybe it's not just me who doesn't know how to do the friendship thing in an appropriate and sufficient manner. For now then I will just be grateful for the smashing friends that I have managed to hang on to and I fully endorse the Victorian ideal of a fat terrier as your friend...
|Blossom and me|