VISIONS AND VISTAS
She looked at the canvas; it was blurred with a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.
|Gateway to Cannon Hill from Heath Drive.
Acrylic on canvas
This particular vision, not quite finished but still a work in progress, is an illustration for NW6 and All That, the book Kathleen and I are writing about West Hampstead. I began the painting two or three weeks ago in the belated blaze of spring, working occasionally en plein air in our suburban patch of Eden.
|Photo by EP
I based the composition on a photograph I took from the vantage point of Heath Drive, NW3, looking across the busy intersection with Finchley Road to the top of stately Cannon Hill. The domed and redbrick building is Avenue Mansions, built in the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, when Heath Drive was still known as West Hampstead Avenue. Bean ‘modelled’ for the dog in the foreground.
Lower down Cannon Hill are Malborough Mansions whose distinguished residents have included the painter Sir William Coldstream, the conductor Sir Adrian Boult and the novelist Nigel Balchin who coined not only the brand name Kit Kat but also the terms ‘boffin’ and ‘backroom boys’. In the same street lived the eminent Victorian geologist Henry Bolingbroke Woodward and his artist daughter Alice, who produced the first illustrated version of Barrie’s Peter Pan. And at the bottom of Cannon Hill, on the corner of West End Lane, was the beginning of West Hampstead café society, a small establishment opened in 1884 as part of the temperance movement’s revival of the London coffee-house scene.
And now, by way of a sneak preview of our book, Kathleen will tell you about an interesting literary figure who spent an idyllic Edwardian childhood in West Hampstead Avenue and knew intimately the thoroughfares of Cannon Hill and Kidderpore Avenue (home to the wealthy dye merchant Charles Cannon who, in the 1870s, converted an old footpath into Cannon Hill).
The extravagantly named Vivian de Sola Pinto (1895-1969) was a leading scholarly authority on D. H. Lawrence and appeared for the defence in the Lady Chatterley Trial. He had been Siegfried Sasson’s second-in-command while they served with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in France during the First World War and he appears as ‘Velmore’ in Sassoon’s Sherston Memoirs. He was also a friend of the Sitwells and Robert Graves and moved very much in the artistic and cultural circles of the high modernist period.
|Pinto (standing second from left) at Garsington with Ottoline Morrell’s
daughter Julian, E. M. Forster, the Bloomsbury historian Goldsworthy
Lowes Dickinson, and the canadian poet Frank Prewett.
He grew up in a house called ‘Heathcroft’ in West Hampstead Avenue, which, thanks to a petition organized by his father, a tobacconist in St James’s Street, was rechristened Heath Drive – a subtle metamorphosis that, together with trees being planted by the council and a possible adjustment in postcode, allowed residents north of Cannon Hill to escape the ‘ignominy’ of being part of West Hampstead, NW6.
|Photo by EP
Amazingly, he was living round the corner almost from ‘Derwen’ in Hermitage Lane the night a young ‘unknown poet’ from the Black Country, called Lawrence, read some of his own verses to a gathering that included Ezra Pound and W. B. Yeats.