Manet’s Fifer is the painting that made me want to be a painter. I first saw it in my first year primary classroom at New Park Road School on Brixton Hill. This was right after the second world war. 1945. The government was determined to improve the culture of the lower classes and put reproductions of great works of art in classrooms all over the country. My classroom had this Manet. I looked at it every day and wished I could make such a picture. I also wished I could play the fife and have a uniform like the young soldier. At least I thought of him as a soldier. At the time I knew nothing about Manet or any other artist. But, I knew I wanted to be an artist.
I place the figure outside the frame, as I do with many of my Art History paintings. Though, in truth, it isn’t an art history painting but a childhood memory. The landscape view of the ruins of Pevensey Castle in east Sussex act as background for the figure. I also make a little joke about Vincent van Gogh losing his boots and now wandering barefoot on the grass.