Pictures came before words. And as soon as there were pictures, there were funny pictures. I’ve always felt sanguine about the future of funny pictures, partly because they’re also up-to-the-minute social comment, available to all, whether you’re literate or not, in a war zone or a suburb.
My dad’s painting studio had a bookcase along one wall, and I was allowed – if I was quiet – to look at the big books on the bottom shelf while he was painting his seascapes. Leonardo da Vinci was there, and Michelangelo, and Bruegel, and a Victorian book on drawing from the nude complete with fig leaves. But my favourite was a volume covered – as we used to cover our school books – in brown wrapping paper to protect the jacket. The wrapping paper was from the upmarket Edinburgh department store Jenners – or at least the Sellotape securing it was. This made me think it wasn’t my Orcadian dad who painstakingly drew the title and the author on the front in red and green ink – PUNCH Pictures by REYNOLDS . He’d never have shopped there. Perhaps it was from a book sale.
Inside – a treasury, for a child who loved drawing and was just beginning to decipher and enjoy words. Picture after picture. Ladies with brollies. Golfers. Urchins. Soldiers. Buses and perambulators and train carriages and tea tables. All in scratchy, energetic, crosshatched, left-handed pen and ink. I had my favourites before I even understood the jokes – a scared little man leaping a fence, a small boy in a chair surrounded by the film characters he was dreaming about, a fat lady in high heels with a fox fur eating itself round her neck.
Now I know far more about the illustrious history of Punch – but it wasn’t till I took the book down last week to enjoy the drawings that I started wondering about the artist. Francis Reynolds, known as Frank, was born in 1876, an artist’s son. Like me, he spent time in long and absorbed contemplation of his father at work and he loved messing about with the paraphernalia of the studio – the brushes, their heads wrapped in cotton, palette knives, baby watercolour boxes, nibs and mucky, crunchy charcoal. This boy also loved soldiers. He would walk miles to Piccadilly just to look in the window of a shop which sold military watercolours. Uniforms – their florid absurdity – absorbed him. He went into business, but it didn’t work, and he became an art student at the forward-thinking Heatherley School of Fine Art
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