From Stein to Einstein

Wednesday, 7th September 2005

Rick Stein

Rick SteinOkay, these don't look much like the real Rick Stein, currently sailing along the Canal du Midi in his television series French Odyssey, but the nature of his programme is that we get a brief look at Stein and the chef, fisherman, farmer or wine-maker he's interviewing, then plenty of leisurely footage of beautiful French countryside and perfect little market towns punctuated by lots of robustly delicious food.

My brother Bill and his wife Michelle recently bought a house in the Vendee, where Stein's journey begins.

. . . and am I jealous? Moi?!

In order to add a recognisable drawing of Stein to these snippets, I turn to the Radio Times, where as luck would have it, there's a whole page on French Odyssey including a large photograph of . . . Cherry Pithiviers; no, she's not the owner of a canal-side patiserrie, this is a sumptuous cherry tart with a puff pastry topping, made using Quercy region cherries.

Quercy? Isn't that a kind of keyboard?

Drawn into her World

KahloKahloTurning back a page from the cherry pie, there's an article on Matthew Collings’ Channel 4 series Self-Portraits: The Me Generation.

I have difficulty drawing from Freda Kahlo's self-portrait (one of 150 she painted), Broken Column (1944), so, resorting to the advice given by Betty Edwards in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, I turn the page upside down and try again (right).

It's not just a case of drawing her appearance; I also find myself drawn into her disturbing world of Mexican folklore, votive images and self-laceration. This shouldn't make drawing what I see on the page any more difficult, but, so it seems to me, it does. She isn't a comfortable presence!

Star Quality

DurerRumoursDrawing Albrecht Dürer's Self-Portrait in Fur Coat (1500) reminded me of Mick Fleetwood and other rock stars of his generation. According to Collings, in the first programme of the Self-Portrait series, this is no accident: artists with a capital 'A' were something new in 16th century Germany - until then they were thought of as craftsmen, just like the masons and carpenters they worked alongside. Collings suggests that another Dürer portrait, showing the artist ostentiously posing in the latest Italian fashions (the kind of thing Fleetwood and co. wore on their album covers), is an attempt to win for artists some social cachet.

The messianic role of the artist suggested in his Fur Coat portrait also has its parallels in the world of rock.


As you'd probably guess, I'd feel happier spending a day drawing old Amsterdam (or anywhere else, for that matter) with Rembrandt (right, Self-Portrait, 1665). Dürer and Kahlo come across as scary, driven, awesomely talented characters both in their appearance and in the way they paint; Rembrandt seems more down to earth but he also seems to be the one who is most likely to have stumbled on the secret of the meaning of life, a kind of Gandalf or Professor Dumbledore for his time.

Karsh potrait of EinsteinAnd it's not just me who sees it that way:

'When scientists could use a mathematical idea to transform matter they had achieved the same quasi-magical relationship with the material world as artists.' writes Kenneth Clark , concluding Civilisation, his survey of western art, ' Look at Karsh's photograph of Einstein (left). Where have we seen that face before? The aged Rembrandt.' Next Page


Rick Stein

Richard Bell,