Saturday, 20 November 2010



Where is the picture?

           Alas, this is the first time I have had difficulty in getting permission to reproduce an image with the correct attributions and without charge. The Hockney Foundation requires a fee of $150. This blog is run on a moneyless economy. The good news is that you can see the picture for nothing in every bookshop in the land, because it’s on page 634 of Neil MacGregor’s brilliant book The History of the World in 100 Objects :Or go to the BBC website of the Radio4 series :

Or cross the courtyard of the British Museum, up the steps and into the lift at the back of the building and see the real thing on the fourth floor in Room 90: 

I chose In The Dull Village because it’s a landmark image for this country.  It was a courageous act to publish it in 1967, just as Parliament passed the Sexual Offences Act decriminalising homosexuality. It’s a decorous picture of two young naked men lying side by side in bed, covered by a blanket up to their waist, one of a series of etchings inspired by the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy who found inspiration in an ancient Greek world where love between men was an accepted part of life. 
I’m also intrigued by the wider question of what beds are for when artists put them into pictures. Sleep, rest and talk is what most people in bed do, for most of their time there. But as Tom Lubbock pointed out in The Independent, when artists signal a bed you can usually be sure there’s trouble ahead: seduction, revenge, a passing god surprising lovers when they’d rather hoped no one had noticed, a passing assassin with a dagger, someone wanly dying - or just plain dead. But Toulouse-Lautrec's The Bed, painted in 1893, shows two young people, probably women, looking warm and snug under masses of heavy bedding, somewhere deep and safe, just drifting off... It’s a beautiful picture, as is In The Dull Village, both celebrating everyday life and loves and friendship.

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