Saturday, 9 May 2015

An artist's mysterious legacy

       
Unknown Girl by Josie Berriman

       Almost a decade ago, I lost my good friend Josie, a talented artist who lived most of her life in the High Peak. Her death was sudden and rather shocking, as she’d always looked so healthy and very much younger than her 74 years.
       A vegetarian, she was an amazing cook. Everyone in her acquaintance would turn down an audience with the Queen to dine with Josie, who was a remarkably generous host. Lashings of homemade soup, caramelised vegetables and exquisite puddings were washed down with good wine and conversation. She also loved a nightcap…..my taste for malt whisky developed after many cosy chats, sitting on an ancient leather sofa by the fire, musing on art, life, friendships, hopes and dreams.  
       It was by this same fire I found her early one evening, lying with her head on a cushion as she usually did when taking her afternoon nap. Only there was nothing ‘usual’ about her breathing. She was completely unconscious, only her lungs working desperately to suck in oxygen with every gasp. The ambulance came, Josie left and we never shared another whisky again.
       Though twice married, Josie had no children of her own but was never short of young companions. Several children, including my own daughter, learned how to wield a paintbrush thanks to Josie. This waterfall sketch shown here was literally ‘dashed off’ – demonstrating how to paint water with a few deft strokes. Yet, hurriedly produced as it was, it sparkles with skill.

Brief sketch of a waterfall by Josie Berriman

       Of course, nothing Josie created professionally was ever hurried. Her landscapes were amazing, her portraits brought to life with consummate skill. She never exhibited, preferring to accept commissions from friends.  Josie’s specialty was children - which many Old Masters struggled to capture – and animals, especially cats!
      Her main source of income was illustrating fashion and children’s magazines, such as Twinkle, and a wide range of books – one of which, “Dear Dear Mary” by Jenny Melmoth, is featured here: http://www.jenny-melmoth.com/publications/dear-dear-mary/ **
       After her death, some of Josie’s work was distributed to friends, including the above portrait of a smiling, fresh-faced girl, whose identity has so far remained undiscovered. 
       If anyone reading this can solve the mystery, I’d love to hear from you!

       The portrait below is 'Elysha', the daughter of mutual friends - it's slightly reflective as I photographed in its glass frame!



** Published by Alfresco Books 2005



    




    

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