Robert Duncan explores matters of the art…

Jan van Eyck's wedding snap

Jan van Eyck’s wedding snap

I spent last Sunday among some of the world’s greatest masterpieces and told the gorgeous Cathy to keep moving in case they were stocktaking. We were at the Tate Gallery (the proper one) admiring the wonders of Turner and the like, and deliberating about the different ways that love and marriage have been portrayed over the years. Some of the types you see in 15th century paintings just wouldn’t cut the mustard today. The women were tight lipped, moody looking, and, since they had to have loads of money before they could have their portrait done anyway, rather overbearing and disdainful. The men all wore silly hats and a dictatorial gaze. They were arrogant, lordly and high-handed. And if you need proof of that (and why wouldn’t you?) take a look at Jan van Eyck’s Giovanni Arnolfini Marriage Portrait. Ok you smart arses out there, I know that one’s in the National Gallery, not the Tate, but it doesn’t change the premise. Just look at the art print so faithfully reproduced here – he’s wearing a hat that you wouldn’t even consider for your wedding, well you might, and his expression doesn’t give away anything of the passion and romance that has lead him to this highly important day in his life. He’s taken off the pointy wooden shoes, which is a start and clearly underlines his romantic intentions, and when the hat comes off, wow! Stand by girl. But maybe it’s too late – she looks like she’s up the duff already. Bad Giovanni…

David Hockney's Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy

David Hockney’s Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy

So right up to date – well the seventies anyway – and we have another marriage situation. David Hockney’s big and strange portrait of Mr and Mrs Clark and their furry chum Percy. Look at this picture as I might, I can’t quite understand why it was done. The Mrs is standing there looking a bit bored, and her husband is sitting down, Pussycat on lap, with a phone next to him just in case, and his toes firmly dug into the woolly carpet. Can’t Hockney do feet? This all proves to me that by the time you’ve got a reputation you can do virtually anything. Look at Picasso.

I believe that very few young ladies think beyond the ceremony when the marriage bug grabs them. They persuade their future husbands, their parents, and anyone else who’ll listen to them to spend as much as possible so they can prove to all their girlfriends how super they can look, and how their romantic dream has come true. Tanned and happy, if a little knackered after their all action honeymoon – where they’ve paraglided, water-skied, and swum with dolphins – they return to a wonderful evening with Mum and Dad, where they view the rather disappointing final selection of wedding photos and then…what? Go back to work? Move into a starter home with a bloke they’re suddenly not so sure about? (Because that wine waiter looked a bit double tasty.) Lose their silly and cheeky evenings out with girlfriends because they have to do their share of the cooking? My advice – enjoy the wedding and then say goodbye.


None of that’s true of course, but it was quite a fun rant, and I have met many people who would agree with the whole sentiment.

Do you remember that joke about the guy who made a speech about sex at his local golf club? When he got home he told his wife he spoke about sailing, to be on the safe side. The next morning she met one of the members who said how good her husband’s speech was. She said, “I don’t know why he talked about that. He’s only done it twice – the first time he was sick and the second time his hat blew off.”

A loving relationship is a wonderful thing in our uncertain world.

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”

Oscar Wilde said that.

“Cartoonists are the best lovers by far.”

I said that.