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Benares by Moonlight

Albert Goodwin (1845-1932)


Signed, inscribed 'Benares' and dated 1916

Watercolour and bodycolour with ink

9 ½ x 14 inches

John R Goodyear Collection

'Chris Beetles Summer Show 2006', Chris Beetles Gallery, London, no 28;
'Albert Goodwin RWS (1845-1932), The John & Mary Goodyear Collection', Chris Beetles Gallery, London, April-May 2022, no 47;
'Three Victorian Travellers', Chris Beetles Gallery, London, March-April 2024

Diary, 1917, November 5th.
'Began this evening drawing of Benares, a commission for a replica of one in b drawings sold to Sir T. L. Devitt — or rather exchanged for my return ticket to New Zealand — a friend of his seeing the book and in it the drawing got his permission to allow make a larger one of the same subject. 
Commissions are so rare nowadays that I am ashamed I have put off the doing of this TO DO long, but now that November weather has come with the 5th, I have no excuse for any further attempts at out-o'-doors painting, which is now impossible. My work in that way must be done from the vantage-ground of friendly windows, and what a wealth of work can be done from that: how many I got out of my cabin window on the sea. At sea and in port, last year at this time.
 I saw Benares for two days — I think each day from the river where I had engaged a sort Ol house-boat with a guide who was anxious to show his credentials, and for me to add my testimony to the many names in his book of them, among others that of Val Prinsep, the painter. The Val that Rossetti's rhyme made at the time when the Frescoes at the “Union” in Oxford were being painted, comes into my mind, and was rather full of Rossetti s good-natured admiring contempt for the enormous man with a child's name:
 “There was a young fellow named Val, 
The roughs' and the prize-fighters' pal;
 The head of a broom and the brains of a groom 
Were the gifts Heaven granted to Val.” 
This guide was a learned pundit and was a very superior person with a contemptuous tolerance for the Christian religion which I gathered he considered a little inferior to Buddhism! but he allowed it was on the same lines!
 He was an expensive luxury but I had to disregard expense, for I needed him to arrange the hire of the boat, the two men to manage it when I wanted to stop and draw, and all other details; he was useful, too, in telling me things which I otherwise should have been puzzled over. One thing I saw under the enormously tall minarets of the only Mohammedan mosque in Benares, and that was half-way between the Ganges and it – a huge, great coal-black pillar, just like an old pine-cone stuck (blunt end downwards) on to a stone pillar — the whole thing, I suppose, forty feet high. This I could not make out the meaning of, nor why it should be in contrast to the brownish yellow stone of most of the buildings. He explained it was for the time of festivals when at night the place was illuminated. Thus I understood I was too far off to see the detail, but gathered it and saw in my mind the effect, for this was a huge candle, or would look line one, when at night would be fitted with thousands of oil lamps, and the whole when lighted would make a thirty-feet flame.  It struck me at once how this would look in the moonlight, with this domination of the commanding mosque, whose gigantic minarets would stand out bluey white against an indigo sky behind it, while down below in the murk and smoke while of all the lesser lights this great torch would light up the whole scene.
Afterwards I — from the outline made in the house-boat — painted this imaginary moonlight in the time of the festival which I could not see for I had only a short two days to get notes. All the time I was, I felt, getting ready for the fever which I was sure had been steadily pursuing me during my last week or two in India. I know the two days' work and the two days' crushing weight of all the astonishment and wonder of the sight of kaleidoscopic Benares (bathing in full action) so took the life out of me that I felt I could not stand another day and took an enormous dose of quinine and went to bed, and with that "lift up” the next day I started home.'

Diary, 1917, November 15th.
'In the evenings, by a very good electric light, have been painting (in monochrome) commission for enlarged drawing of “Benares."'

Diary, 1918, April 17th.
'To my astonishment had an intimation from the Secretary R.W.S. that two of my drawings sold on the P.V. day. This was most surprising as I risked putting full pre-War prices on them. This makes three gone out of my six, for “Benares” was sold (and paid for) before it went in. It seems as though I cannot be ruined and bankrupt — no not even by the War. Someone tells me that he overheard at the same P.V. two men talking over "Benares" and one said, "Goodwin is a lucky man, he has had many friends who invited him to go abroad and that accounts for the great variety of his subjects." I shall be known perhaps by and by as "The variety Artist,” but there is a measure of truth in this overheard remark. I certainly have been lucky, and it is true that luck has helped me considerably about the world, and in a most pleasant, not to say friendly, way. Last but by no means least was my visit (as guest of Sir Thomas Devitt) to Sicily, who indeed was the one who heard the gossip, and must have had a chuckle about it.'

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