Down memory lane, August 24, 2018

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An oil painting canvas mystery unfolded at Clachan’s annual art show.

The provenance of every work on show was well known to the organisers, except one, which had been donated to help boost restoration funds for the village hall.

The painting, in a battered gold coloured wood frame, titled Village in the Valley, by H Shapiro, priced at £50, caused much debate.

It was decided that the village looked most like Glencoe and due to the absence of television aerials it must have been pre-1965.

The artist’s identity opened another discussion, with Arthur Duff taking centre stage.

Had the best known 1960s Shapiro, singer Helen, performer of 1961 chart toppers, You Don’t Know and Walkin’ Back to Happiness, been a secret painter as well as pop and jazz singer and actress?

Had the young star, who at 16 gave the Beatles a support slot in 1963, taken a Highland break?

It all seemed a bit unlikely but could have made the painting a bit more valuable.

Clues to the painting’s age lay in the method of stretching the canvas. It was nailed to the stretcher rather than the modern method of stapling. At some stage a further bar of yellowed wood had to added to keep the canvas taut.

Further internet research revealed a painter known as H Shapiro, who was born in 1933. Helen was born in 1946.

Unfortunately for those hoping for a massive price tag, the H stands variously for Hermon or Herman.

A painting with a similar style, titled Loch Long, appeared recently on eBay and was described as: ‘Oil on canvas, possibly an early work by the artist Herman (Hermon) Shapiro.

‘It is hand signed, lower right, with “H. Shapiro” and dated ‘52 (1952).’
It was estimated at 90 euros and Mr Shapiro is included on the BBC – Your paintings website and has some work in the Welsh national gallery.

A large collection of Mr Shapiro’s other work, mainly of life studies of a distinctly different style is for sale with a gallery, named Hatfield Hines in Norwich.

One of the partners at the gallery said they had bought the paintings. Despite having much biographical detail the partner claimed they had no way of contacting Mr Shapiro.

That gallery states that Mr Shapiro was born in London and is settled in Scotland, which fits Clachan’s picture.

He studied at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts from 1949-54 where he was apparently influenced by Bloch, Minton and Vaughan and was associated with the acclaimed Camberwell Group.

By the mid 1950s he had started teaching in South Wales schools and went on to lecture at Cardiff College of Art.

His paintings and sculpture are mostly based on the female figure, more recently in a domestic environment. He also enjoys the open, figureless, landscape.