Dio stramaledica gli Inglesi!


Dio Stramaledica gli Inglesi

Sometimes I come back to a picture with a new idea, usually to add something – such are the wonders of Photoshop – despised I know by many purists but manna from heaven to someone like me who never knows when to stop.

In this case I have tinkered with a 2006 picture called Correspondent inspired by the 19thC French Painter Roussell. In the past I had already added the bombed out ruin as the background (actually a roofless Roman bath near Viterbo) and later on a copy of Picture Post from the war years that I picked up from a used bookseller in Charing Cross Road. Then I came across a picture in an Italian magazine of a theatre in wartime Milan with the inscription ‘Dio stramaledica gli Inglesi’  (God curse the English) suspended above the actors’ heads.

dio stramaledica gli inglesi

over their heads

The slogan was coined by enthusiastic fascist and anti-semitic journalist Mario Appelius.

fascist_badge_dio stramaledica gli inglesi

fascist badge

In fact it was the catch phrase with which he signed off his radio broadcasts. On one such programme he harangued the British, Churchill and the RAF for bombing soft, easy to hit targets, “Why don’t you try and bomb somewhere really difficult’, he ranted, “like the port of La Spezia!”

This unwise utterance did not improve his popularity with wavering supporters of the regime or the inhabitants of La Spezia, the harbour was bombed shortly after and struck repeatedly till the end of the war.

Mussolini’s regime was fond of plastering slogans such as this one everywhere, at the entrance to towns, on farm buildings, stations and air raid shelters.


Vincere! In Volterra

An ubiquitous one was: Credere Obbedire Combattere – VINCERE! (Believe Obey Fight – WIN!). Many though faded, some almost beyond recognition still survive.
Appelius was tried and convicted after the war as an apologist for fascism, but  avoided incarceration under the terms of an amnesty.


Futurist bar

Aside from sloganising and cursing the English, Mussolini, who was usually referred to as Duce, purged Italian of English. The Futurist artist Marinetti and the poet d’Annunzio were among those who volunteered to dream up alternatives: sandwich became traidue; Bridge became Ponte;  club, consociazione; cocktail, arlecchino;  even bar yielded to the tortuous qui si beve. The term chiave inglese (lit. English key) for spanner was substitued with chiave morsa.

Some Italianised words  such as calcio (football) have survived but on the whole this has been another battle lost.



Weeping Willow Woman

Willow,Lake Bolsena,Italy

weeping willow, Lake Bolsena, March 2009

In early spring 2009 I took the picture above of a weeping willow on Lake Bolsena. A fortnight later a high wind ripped off  the upper bough and for at least a couple of years it lay semi-submerged, rotting in the shallow water below.

I grew up with Willow Pattern. As a child I was fascinated by the seemingly endless sherds of blue and white china that I could excavate from the bottom of Granny’s garden in Oxford, nigh on a hundred years of broken crockery. Willow pattern is Chinese in style but actually English in origin as is the romantic, but tragic tale that is supposed to be behind the illustration. The fable has been the source of a comic opera and also an early film and a more recent animation by Barry Purves called ‘Screen Play’.

weeping willow bolsena

disconcerted amateur photographer surveys the willowy wreckage, April ’09

I said to myself that when it was finally swept away I would set one of my Belle pictures under this beautiful maimed tree. I thought a refrain from a very short Tyrannosaurus Rex song of 1969 called The Misty Coast of Albany would make suitably moody title, weeping willow woman.

So I searched for a woman of willowy build with suitably long hair and found Kerstin, one of the many northerners who like myself  has chosen to live in the magical part of the world that is  Central Italy.


Patrick Nicholas, Lake Bolsena 6.45 A.M.

We met at 6.30 on a warm morning in mid May. I was ever so slightly preoccupied that she might not be able to hold the pose I hoped would mirror the bend of the tree. I need not have worried, she practices yoga. She was so proficient and subtle that we would have finished in a quarter of an hour had I not realised that there were so many fronds behind her that they spoiled her silhouette.

weeping willow woman out-take

before the act of vandalism


I love trees and hated committing an act of vandalism, but the picture I felt looked the better for it.

A mere ten minutes later we were sitting having breakfast of rum babas from the Bolsena pasticherie.
I used two neutral density filters and a polariser to get the shutter speed sufficiently low to smooth out the water and render it a mess of abstract shapes. All this extra glass in front of the lens rendered the image a horrid purply colour in which it was hard to see on the camera display what was going on.

weeping willow woman

purple haze

Back  at base in front of the computer the picture gradually begins to take form. Firstly the vertical shots were stitched together to make a panoramic image. Then what was to be done about that awful purple haze?


rum babas for breakfast at 7.15

In fact with a bit of tweaking the original colours could in fact be resurrected, yet that left a very literal looking image; what I was after was a certain….. melancholic, mood.

I wanted to render something of the essential poetry of Japanese screen painting as in this picture Heron and Willow by Kiitsu .

Heron Willow Tree  Kiitsu

Heron and Willow Tree by Kiitsu

After a saving a few different versions I felt I was getting there but that it was still too…literal.


………getting there

By now it was late and I was heading for bed so I picked up the book I was reading, a biography of the painter James Whistler, looked at the man himself and asked him straight out, ‘what would you do?’ He told me to make it more mysterious, more hazy.

I chose a photo I had taken of a yellow wall in our house, added that as a layer, took the opacity down to 30% and there it was, another ingredient in the stew.


Weeping Willow Woman (with Whistler’s help)

Weeping willow woman
Ladled on the arm
Of the misty coast of Albany
With its charm
Pining pillar of the wild willows end
Womanly waiting
For your manly friend.

Misty Coast of Albany by Marc Bolan 1969

Onion Turrets, IvoryTowers, Imperial Cupolas

Please lock me away……

Danae was sent to the tower to protect her virtue;  in an ivory tower intellectuals are supposed to argue over how many angels one can fit on the head of a pin; and those searching for a bit of unworldly peace to write that novel, scan their slides, write a song or ponder on the meaning of life, could seek a tower to lock themselves away in – in which case Mittel-Europa and Graz in particular would be a good place to head for, towers abound in the lands of the erstwhile Austo-Hungarian Empire.

onion dome.Graz

onion dome


mediaeval tower, Graz, Austria

mediaeval tower, Graz


almost unlimited choice of styles

Clock Tower on Castle Hill,Graz

Clock Tower on Castle Hill

 Starke Häuschen, Carl Rotky

an artist really did live here in Starke Häuschen (now a café), the painter Carl Rotky


Tower in Vinohrady, Prague

When in Prague I stay with a friend who lives here on the top floor….in the tower. Living within curved walls – an experience not to be missed.

Please lock me away……….I won’t stay in a world without love

Eve of Destruction


Venus at her Mirror by Velàzquez 1651

A hundred years ago few anywhere suspected that the most deadly war of all time was about to break out in six months time. What occupied the minds of Britons was whether women should be awarded the vote or not, the disruptive campaign the Suffragettes were carrying out and the Liberal government’s heavy handed reaction to it.
One Suffragette had died throwing herself in front of the King’s horse at the Derby the year before and on 10 March 1914 the recently acquired Rokeby Venus by Velazquez was slashed and bashed seven times with a meat cleaver by Mary Richardson a militant Suffragette.

Rokeby Venus as she was in March 1914

Rokeby Venus as she was in March 1914

The Times reported ‘Slasher Mary’ as she was dubbed, as saying
I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history. Justice is an element of beauty as much as colour and outline on canvas. Mrs. Pankhurst seeks to procure justice for womanhood, and for this she is being slowly murdered by a Government of Iscariot politicians.

Sadly, acts of vandalism are not rare in the art world. The Little Mermaid of Copenhagen has been decapitated (twice), blown up and even suffered the ignominy of having a dildo welded to her hand; Ofili’s elephant dung garlanded ‘Holy Virgin Mary’ had common or garden horse manure thrown at it; Andre’s ‘Equivalent VIII’ (aka ‘A Pile of Bricks’) had green ink thrown at it; the list is a long one.

Depending on where you stand politically or where you place yourself in the art world influences whether you begrudgingly condone the act or not. If you are in the conceptual art camp you will abhor the fact that Tracy Emin’s unmade bed was repeatedly bounced on by two men in their underwear, while as one blogger said after the attempt on the Mona Lisa in 2009  ‘It’s not to say I endorse vandalism of art–although I’ll distract the guards if anyone fancies slashing a Pre-Raphelite work’.

Richardson was sent down for six months (the maximum term). When she was released the lights had gone out all over Europe and the movement devoted itself to the war effort.  After the war Richardson briefly became leader of the women’s section of the British Union of Fascists. She may have perpetrated what appeared to be a wholly political act in 1914, but in an interview two world wars and 100 million deaths later, in 1952, she appeared to give a more feminist justification,
I didn’t like the way men visitors gaped at it all day long.

I did a take on this picture in 2005 which I call You Tube. There is a behind the scenes video of the shoot on…………YouTube.

You Tube

You Tube

Would it bother bother me if someone slashed my picture? Not really,  it is after all a photographic print – I can always do another.

The Formal Nude

It occurred to me one afternoon in Paris what made some female nudes shocking – it depends on what they are wearing, or, on their hair. The occasion was the Felix Vallatton exhibition in January. The artist was perhaps best known for his curious conversation pieces of couples in which the title added an unsettling element that was not evident in the picture alone. Le Mensonge (The Lie) for example.

Le Mensonge_Felix.Vallotton

Le Mensonge – The Lie

His nudes, especially those inspired by mythology, inspired embarrassment at the time though he was not put off and continued to paint them throughout his life.


Andromeda by Vallotton

The women are not in a state of nature even if they cavort with satyrs, they are bourgeois Parisians and they all have their hair up.



Nowadays women hardly ever put their hair up, but until the 1920s no self respecting woman was ever seen in public with her hair down, it would have seemed shockingly informal.


cavorting with Satyr

Conversely, a woman in the evening in her own home in convivial company let her hair down, and we still use the expression.

vallotton nude

modern woman with hair down looks on

Vallatton’s women therefore are in a state of formal undress. It reminds me of when I went to a sauna in Milan many years ago. I was sitting naked on the bench when a middle aged woman entered, took off her bath robe and sat naked opposite me. After a few minutes she struck up a conversation. What intrigued me was that she used the formal Lei (vous in French or Zie in German).

Beardsley's Lysistrata

Beardsley Lysistrata

Beardsley too has naked women with elaborate XVIII century hairpieces.
Wilson Steer could have shocked the public in 1900 not with a hairpiece but with a hat – it was the incongruous nature of a woman wearing a formal hat whilst undressed that startled many and shocked some. He chose not to. He withdraw the painting  from exhibition when, in his words, ‘friends told me it was spoiled by the hat; they thought it indecent that a nude should be wearing a hat, so it’s never been shown’.

The Black Hat.Wilson Steer

The Black Hat by Wilson Steer

I am mulling over what could be a modern form of formal undress.

Private View

In London over Christmas I paid a visit to the London Museum with my wife and 10 year old daughter and what did we run across quite unexpectedly?

Protein Man London-PatrickNicholas

The placard in the London Museum. ‘Eight Passion Proteins’ leaflets are just visible behind the glass

This, the actual placard that the so called Protein Man paraded up and down Oxford St, London for 25 years. His name was Stanley Green, a harmless eccentric who waged a solitary campaign against lust which he attributed to over indulgence in animal protein. He served in the Royal Navy and was more shocked by his fellow matelots obsession with sex than by anything else he experienced in six years of  wartime service.

He handed out leaflets to anyone who would take them although they officially cost 6d when he started and 20 pence at the end of his career in the nineteen eighties. He always wore a mac, rain or shine, as so many people spat on him.
I re-encountered Mr Green whilst lying in the bathtub trying to come up with an idea based on Lautrec’s ‘Woman pulling up her stocking’. I suddenly heard his voice, which sounded rather as if he were being throttled, ‘More lentils, Less Lust’ one of his stock phrases.

From Mr Green’s point of view Oxford Street was the front line, Soho with its strip clubs, peepshows and girls, was right next door.

saucy traffic_wardens

saucy traffic wardens

These pictures were taken outside the side entrance of Great Marlborough St Police Station on the edge of Soho in about 1979. I was stepping out of Sky Photo Labs opposite when the two traffic wardens started whistling the stripper song and then proceeded to raise their skirts. I took five pics before they carried on down Great Marlborough Street amazing the passers by.

saucy traffic-wardens

a knees up while humming the stripper’s song

Sadly (for us) they did not bump into Stanley Green who no doubt was close by at the time. What the impromptu show was all about I have no idea, but I was privileged to have a private view. As Stanley Green himself said, ‘Passion can be a great torment.’

Las Vegas Sleeper

Las Vegas penthouse

Las Vegas penthouse living room

Sometimes you have to wait years before you see the results of your labours. I recently heard from architect Len Cotsovolos who purchased 4 pictures from me to decorate a project he was designing way back in 2009. He sent me a Christmas card in which therewas the link to his website  where I finally saw the pictures hanging in a luxurious Las Vegas penthouse. He also used Daphne for his company logo. Very satisfying, and all the more so for the long wait. Thanks Len.

LC2 Daphne web page

Daphne as an animated gig on LC2 Design’s website splash page