How Ir­ish ‘mer­maid’ saved the life of Charles Church

Mys­te­ri­ous woman’s foul-mouthed warn­ing forced the painter to es­cape a clos­ing tide

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Racing - MAR­CUS ARMY­TAGE

There is, for fol­low­ers of equine art, noth­ing quite like a Charles Church ex­hi­bi­tion. He is Britain’s near­est mod­ern equiv­a­lent in style to Sir Al­fred Mun­nings and Church’s show, Stud­ies and Land­scapes, at Gallery 8 in Duke Street, Lon­don, opened yes­ter­day and runs un­til Sat­ur­day. It in­cludes stud­ies of the Arc win­ner Found, the Derby win­ner Camelot, the Derby and Arc win­ner Golden Horn, as well as hounds, cat­tle and, in­creas­ingly, land­scapes which, he points out, are a very good ex­er­cise be­tween horses.

Like all good painters, Church, 47, suf­fered for his art. He dropped out of art school and moved as a teenager to New­mar­ket, where he washed dishes in the Swyn­ford Pad­docks Ho­tel. That al­lowed him to paint dur­ing the day un­til the town’s art gallery bought his en­tire stock, en­abling him to en­rol at the Charles H Ce­cil Stu­dios in Florence for two years, learn­ing old-mas­ter tech­niques.

He moved back to Lambourn, where it proved some­thing of a school­boy er­ror to share a house with Kim Bai­ley’s then as­sis­tant, Ed­die Hales. It was ul­ti­mately a threat from his bank man­ager to with­draw his over­draft fa­cil­ity that prompted Church to move to Dorset, or any­where, at least, away from Hales, who was lead­ing him astray. In Dorset, he spent nine months in a car­a­van on a farm be­fore mov­ing into a derelict thatched cot­tage which he rented for the princely sum of £1 a year. Seven years ago he bought a house. In March, while pre­par­ing for this ex­hi­bi­tion, he knocked down his stu­dio, which was fac­ing north­east, and re­built it fac­ing due north to get the best light for paint­ing.

Paint­ing can be a lonely busi­ness, so this year he set off to Con­nemara with fel­low land­scape painter Ollie Ak­ers-dou­glas. One day they found a nice spot to paint at Glas­si­laun – a long spec­tac­u­lar stretch of beach which has some rocks at one end, pro­vid­ing the per­fect view of the beach with moun­tains be­hind. Ar­riv­ing at low tide, they as­sumed they might have a small wade back af­ter paint­ing but then, en­grossed in their work, for­got all about that. Af­ter a cou­ple of hours, Church glanced up from his easel to catch the ex­tra­or­di­nary sight of a slim brunette wad­ing through the sea to­wards them in her knick­ers, the clos­est thing to an Ir­ish mer­maid you could imag­ine.

He pointed out the vi­sion of beauty ap­proach­ing them to Ak­ers-dou­glas, and he was pretty dumb­struck, too. As she got closer, she stopped and shouted; “Get off the f------ rocks – the tide’s com­ing in and you’ll f------ drown!”

Nei­ther man had ever packed his easel as fast in his life and, by the time they got off, the sea was shoul­der level as they waded back to the safety of the beach. But the mys­te­ri­ous mer­maid, their life­saver whose ver­nac­u­lar sug­gested she had been hang­ing around the docks, had van­ished.

Are horses psy­chic? Owner Wil­liam Wood be­lieves his filly Magic Mir­ror, trained in Ox­ford­shire by Mark Rimell, at least has a sixth sense be­cause of her rou­tine; she stops pro­gress­ing, is en­tered in the sales in de­spair, she wins two on the bounce, they with­draw her from the sale, she goes off the boil, they en­ter her in an­other sale – most re­cently the Oc­to­ber Horses-in-train­ing – she wins two on the bounce again.

Rather than ex­tend the win­ning run to three, Wood is re­signed to his fate and the filly, in the knowl­edge she is re­prieved from the sale and the un­cer­tain­ties of an un­known des­ti­na­tion, is bound to start go­ing back­wards again.

“I’m telling the jockey not to use his stick,” said Wood, “but rather whis­per to her dur­ing the clos­ing stages that ‘a four-year-old filly by Dutch Art is lot 1705’ in the next sale. I’m hop­ing it does the trick.”

Equine beauty: A paint­ing of Camelot

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