Monday, 28 January 2008
I found this painting book at a flea market at the weekend. It was hidden under a pile of old photos and books. Beside it on the stall were some other exercise books belonging to the original owner, a little girl called Iris, but it was this painting book that needed to come home with us! It was full of drawings and paintings the little girl had painted over a century ago and we had no idea what other treasures were between its covers. As we handed the money over to the stall holder he noticed my little girl standing beside me with her own sketch book in her hand (she's going through a lovely phase of taking her drawing book everywhere at the moment and just sitting down and doodling!) and I hadn't noticed the comparisons until that moment. Two little girls, a century apart, both taking such innocent pleasure in their drawings. I often feel very sad seeing people's belonging ending up on a stall for other people to buy, intimate personal things being looked at by all of us and it moved me to think of this little girl, Iris, who had once sat down happily painting away with, thankfully, no idea, of where her paintings would end up. I'm glad that we bought it and I'm glad that it's home with us to look after.
Made in the 1890s, this book is full of wonderful floral prints to be copied by a budding young artist
Beautiful victorian floral images, here are just some of them.
On some of the pages Iris has had a go herself and she seems to be a very talented little artist.
Hidden amongst the pages were some old postcards that she must have treasured to have kept them in her book. A German Easter Card from 1903 addressed to Iris and a postcard from 1912 to her new address in London from admirer possibly who says they think of her often! It was only later when I read the postcard again I noticed the address, Iris lived five minutes away from where M and I lived when we were in London!
At the back of the book was an assortment of letters addressed to Iris, written during the First World War. In 1915 she received a letter from the East Sussex Constabulary which enclosed her residence permit. One, writtten in 1916 had the "Opened by Censor" stamp on it. Sent to Denmark it had been returned, its contents written by Iris were thanking a friend for passing on news of mutual friends who had been involved in the fighting. In the same year Iris received a letter from Denmark passing on the sad news of a friend's death through action and that another was at the front. The following year Iris made a donation to The Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Hostel, was it the sad news that had prompted it? The hostel thanks Iris for her "practical sympathy in the welfare of our gallant men."
This little collection of paintings and letters has moved me so much this weekend. On the way back from the market, sitting on the bus next to my daughter who was still cheerfully sketching away, I looked through the painting book. Before all the tragedy of the First World War, Iris must have experienced the same sort of innocent pleasure as my daughter and I am so pleased that she did.