Thursday 30 November 2017

Fondest memories of Nick Wadley

I adored this Mensch. He and his beloved Jasia were always there for us, quietly and with discretion, during a difficult time. And I hope we returned the favour a little. Certainly I think only happy thoughts about Nick. Even though he suffered a lot in later years and was in and out of the Royal Free Hospital too much from 2004 onwards, he made art out of it, as I mentioned earlier on the blog, in a little masterpiece, Man + Doctor. Here's one more illustration which isn't actually in the book, expressing 'the feeling of liberation from hospital'.

In telling us that Nick had died, Jasia wrote eloquently (on 1 November, and I know she doesn't mind my reproducing this):

He died at 5.40 this morning on the 15th floor of the University College Hospital. It was his seventh week in hospital.

The view from his window was spectacular, the care excellent, but there was no prospect of a recovery.

For us, the last memory was a very happy one. Nick made a rare departure from home in August to come with Jasia and share a meal here with us and beloved mutual friends. He was frail but absolutely himself, and we laughed a lot. Here he is with Jasia and Maria Jesús.

We met through the humorously-named Cole Porter Choral Society, which he had set up with the assistance of Sylvia Libedinsky 20 years ago while they were working on cartooning and a cloth exhibition in Japan. At that time the other members were few, including Peter 'Joe Egg' Nichols and his wife, with Eva Hofmann at the piano.

Sylvia invited us to Liane Aukin's home - there's another dear one lost - and we joined as regulars, slightly putting out of joint the noses of those who preferred to croon rather than sing lustily (as one of them told me at the service). As with all groups, it wasn't without its frictions and defences, but what fun we always had rattling through selections from three books of songs by Porter, Gershwin, Berlin and others. Remembering the spontaneous singalong nature of the events, I suggested to our trusty pianist Kurt Ryz that we shouldn't rehearse the three for the service, and I told the assembled friends who packed the central chapel of Golders Green Crematorium how what we were about to offer was in the spirit of the meetings.

We should, I suppose, have sorted that we were going to repeat the initial verse of 'Chatanooga Choo-Choo' to embrace both Nick's variation and the original - it was chaotic beyond bounds when Kurt whizzed on to the next section without repeating. But 'You're the Tops', including Cole's naughty verse, rollicked before we hit another reef with 'Let's Face the Music and Dance', which wasn't in the books and turned out to proceed in a way that only J seemed to know (thank goodness).

Anyway, it wasn't about us but about Nick - and a lovelier remembrance couldn't be imagined. The MC was his good friend Dr John Besford, with whom I had a lively communication before the service and who brought along two jars of 'Dr Besford's Aubergine Pickle' from Mr Todiwala (spicy and intense) - one I was to make sure reached Alina Ibragimova, whose masterclass John had attended and whom he promised a sample.

John filled us in on essential details. I've extracted what  he calls 'a synopsis of Nick's life in three short chapters provided by Jasia Reichardt.'


Nicholas Wadley was born in 1935 in Elstree, Herts, the youngest of four children. Went to Reed’s School, Cobham. After National Service (during which he worked as a Morse code operator) he studied painting at the Croydon and Kingston Schools of Art and then art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art under, among others, Anthony Blunt.

He has two children, Caroline and Chris, and six grandchildren, a quorum of whom are here today.

He lived in London for most of his life. 


Nick's principal teaching work for 25 years was at Chelsea School of Art, where he became head of department of Art History in 1970. He took early retirement in 1985 to do research and concentrate on his own work, writing and drawing.

Nick wrote some ten books dealing with art history, including a book about Gauguin’s manuscript Noa Noa (1985) and the standard volume on Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Drawing (1991).

He wrote countless articles; reviews; catalogue introductions, gave countless lectures. He curated many exhibitions (Kurt Schwitters, London, 1981 ), Franciszka Themerson Drawings (Ålborg 1989), Gaberbocchus Press (Paris, 1996), 'The Secret Life of Clothes' (Fukuoka, Japan, 1998), UBU in UK (London, 2000), 'Franciszka Themerson, European Artist' (London 2013). He was the chosen illustrator of several authors including U.A. Fanthorpe, Lisa Jardine, John Ashbery and others. He also spent many years working on the Themerson Archive with Jasia, writing about Stefan Themerson and Franciszka Themerson's art and preparing her catalogue raisonné. 


When asked to describe himself, he wrote: 'Nick Wadley writes and draws'. After 1990, he became increasingly involved with drawing, or perhaps thinking through drawing. Many of these drawings appear in his books: Man + Dog; Man + Doctor; Man + Table; and Man + Book for which we have to wait until December. The next one he planned, a Franglais edition, was to be called Man + Homme. In collaboration with Sylvia Libedinsky, Nick contributed weekly cartoons from 1997-2002 to The Daily Telegraph and Financial Times and through her made his connection with Argentina where they both exhibited. The Otros Aires neo-tango music for which Nick provided the cartoons in Big Man Dancing comes from there and will accompany us as we leave this building. And then, there are the cards, like short stories or aphorisms, each on a subject to be deciphered or thought about. He had exhibitions of his drawings in London, Tokyo, Warsaw, Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile. During these 17 years he still wrote about art, mainly for the TLS.

John finished very eloquently:   

Auden...wrote (regarding the Golden Rule): We are all here on earth to help others. What on earth the others are here for I don’t know. But Nick did. 

My loving and beautiful wife Sonja tells me that there is a Jewish concept called tikkun olam which is expressed as acts of kindness performed ‘to repair the world. Nick and Jasia together have been practicing tikkun olam and inspiring ‘the others’ to do the same for decades. 

There followed four readings, from which I take this poem by Nick, read by Richard Nightingale: 

At night,
  when thoughts walk naked,
  unrecognised without their clothes,
  they're neither words nor pictured quite.
By day,
  they seem to go more one way 
  or the other.

Neither the Golders Green event nor refreshments afterwards at the Camden Arts Centre off the Finchley Road - which to my shame I've never visited before - offered much space for sadness; that came, for me, the day after. But it was undoubtedly a life well lived - and its effects will last, not least in the launch of another book very soon and with any luck another exhibition at the 12 Star Gallery.


Maria Jesús Gonzalez Fernandez said...

Thank you so much for this beautiful and touching piece about our dearest Nick.

Yes, a Mensch he was. We were privileged to know him. And this is my and Gelo's little story…

I met Nick through Jasia, my friendly and helpful “lady contact” provided by the state agency Sabbatical Homes as a friend of philosopher Hidé Ishiguro, whose studio in Belsize Village I finally rented for my postdoctoral stay in London 1999-2000. As I was alone and not on top form, Jasia made sure I had a nice “landing” in the city, fed me, and introduced me Nick and later other friends who would also become my friends. Nick presented me with an open smile, a nice welcoming couple of postcards (as he used to do) and also an invitation to a choral act. Since then I never felt alone thanks to them. I later introduced both to Gelo when he visited me. That was the beginning of friendship forever: till the cows come home… which in Nick’s case has lasted unfortunately only 18 years.

From all these years there remain so many beautiful remembrances that somehow mitigate the sadness of the loss; images and sounds lingering, floating around like “flutterbys”… (Nick’s play of words):

· Nick with Jasia always welcoming with their big-hug big-smile big-ooooOoooh ! lovely ritual once you trespassed the red door of 12 Belsize Park Gardens;

· both cooking delicious meals seasoned with fascinating conversations based on the Themersonianan universe, arts, politics and life among others;

· Nick and Sylvia making witty hilarious plays of words and producing unforgettable cards;

· Nick and Judith competing, amusing and so proud when they won University Challenge!;

· going with Nick and friends to enjoy a cheerful ukulele concert (what a treat!);

· Nick listening, understanding and supporting in bad moments;

· Nick’s wisely touring me through the works of Themerson, of Patrick Caulfield’s exhibition or those of other artists (a privilege!);

· Nick laughing at my bad English and sometimes adopting it in future conversations: for instance when I mentioned the no “weapums” of mass destruction, or I said I had to deliver a lecture somewhere and then to “deliver a Master” at my University (a postcard arrived with a wrapped and stamped university professor, mortarboard and glasses visible, the postman asking “where do you want it to be delivered, madam?”).

Gelo added “windy-Houston day” to our “stoopid” vocabulary and a joke about a man whose nose was so big that he was able to smoke under the rain. Of course that too was immortalised in a drawing (I am now desperately looking for them among the masses of postcards Nick used to send by email or by post in colourful envelopes).

We all (Jasia, Nick, Gelo and me) have shared, among other times together, some lovely walks by the harbour or the beach in Santander as well as an extraordinary exhibition of Nam June Paik in Guggenheim Bilbao. (continued...)

Maria Jesús Gonzalez Fernandez said...


Nick was a brilliant, unpretentious, knowledgeable person. I learned A LOT from his comments on art and his exquisite reviews of exhibitions or books in the TLS. I read him and also admired his drawings and poetical-ironical “artifacts”. I benefited by his generosity, his patience and his good humour. He loved people as friends and also as anonymous drawings models (chasing in the air their soul and scenes of the human condition). He loved music - listening and singing. He loved nature and would describe beautifully the yellowing leaves of the poplar trees and the light of Belsize Park skies. He was very fond of the mimosa tree in his studio terrace and proudly fed tits, finches, robins and sparrows in the kitchen garden. Birds came to listen to breakfast music and conversation. Nick stopped greedy squirrels and pigeons making a funny sort of “martian trench” for the bird feeder. He only hated mosquitos. Once he suffered the repeated attack of a monstrous specimen for several summer nights. After a hard fight - “Man + Mosquito” (could have been another of his titles!) - he finally killed it, scanned it, and then dedicated it a poem as a tribute to the dead enemy now immortalised in art. He painted happy ephemeral families in ginger roots and surrounded himself with loved images: photos of Jasia, his friends, his children and grandchildren. But he also liked whimsical and poetical images or objects…

He was stoic. Strong in mind. He loved life very much life and enjoyed non stop working, creating.

"How are you?" “Not too bad, sweetheart” he used to say… even if his last years were quite difficult.

We were so lucky to have such a warm occasion all together in your place that August night, sharing delicious food, fun and friendship only a few weeks before hospital.

That was to Gelo and to me the last happy occasion with him and we treasure it.

As we will always treasure so many sweet remembrances of Nick … colourful flutterbys.

David said...

Dearest Maria Jesús, I'm honoured that you took the time to write that beautiful tribute. I realise that by comparison my own writing above lacks personal reminiscences, but it was important to give the lion's share to John. We did, though, treasure visits to the big, airy rooms in Belsize Park, tea in the kitchen with that wonderful trailing plant (must ask Jasia what it was and get one to remind us of Nick), the Themerson exhibitions and book launches - nick seemed so well at the last one earlier this year, though he looked very white - and of course the unforgettable Cole Porter sessions at Liane's, Sylvia's, Simone's, the Nichols(es)', the Lloyd Packs'. We will meet up at least once a year around this time to honour Nick with our terrible singing.

I'd encourage others to leave messages here as a kind of visitors' book, but that's usually a bit embarrassing when silence ensues...

David Damant said...

I like the French " !l a disparu"

David said...

Il n'a pas disparu. Il est parmi nous encore... Though I like to think his spirit might have floated away as in the picture of the self released from hospital - shedding the hospital robe as he drifted upwards.

Susan said...

A joyful, mischievous spirit shines through the drawings, I love your back story about the Cole Porter Choral Society, as well as your unrehearsed tribute to those times at the service. His was clearly a life well lived, and lovingly celebrated here.

David said...

Joyful and mischievous are perfect words to describe Nick the artist - which is also, of course, Nick the person, and it makes me so happy that someone like you, who never met him, can understand who he was a bit through his drawings. By the way, did you see that he illustrated John Ashbery, among poets? Must find out more about that.

John Graham, Edinburgh said...

Liane Aukin played the hilarious busybody Jewish matchmaker sister in Schlesinger's SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY, forever trying to attach her nice closet Jewish brother with a Golders Green spinster or other, assuring them, "well, he is a doctor, you know". Ah, but what else is he? The synagogue and Kiddush scenes in the film are highly accurate, with that never-to-be-escaped sense of family tying you down with constant emotional blackmail

David said...

I wondered - very long time since I saw the film but now you jog my memory. She was an amazingly natural, warm and easy person. You would have loved it that at the first meeting in her house, another adorable lady, Joan Safran, announced that she was off to play bridge with Radu Lupu and Fou Ts'ong. We're attending her seasonal soiree this coming Sunday.

Susan said...

I did not know about the Ashbery connection. I’m not even aware of any illustrated Ashbery books, but will now keep an eye out, for sure.

Anonymous said...

You do move in very exalted circles, David, from Radu Lupu et al to Ms Aukin. Do you have any unmissable CD releases of 2017, by the way? I heard you last year, 2016, on Andrew McG's CD Review, on this subject. Anything really, really significant? I enjoyed Ivan Fischer's Budapest Mahler 3, for starters.

David said...

Now there's a timely question, since on Tuesday I and five others spent from 11am to 4pm in BBC Music Magazine Editor Olly Condy's home selecting best of year from all the five-star reviews (way too many!) Can't possibly comment on what we chose so far - there will be three in each category for the public to vote on, issued I think in the January magazine. And then I can discuss a bit what was especially popular and what only just missed the boat. But I see no harm in declaring my CD of the year (so far - it ain't over yet...), which is Semyon Bychkov's Vienna Philharmonic recording of Franz Schmidt's Second Symphony on Sony. A masterpiece of a work, I thought when I first heard the same team perform it at the Proms - and I still do. Gorgeous recording. Best brand-new discover? Martinu Cantatas on Supraphon. And best debut disc (remember, this is my personal choice) - Sean Shibe's recital of English guitar music on Delphian.

All this, and more, to be discussed here anon - though you can draw me out on personal preferences, of course. BTW, I loved Ivan Fischer's Mahler 3 - after the opening, which isn't as horny-magnificent as I'd like. Haitink's 87-year-old thoughts on it are even better.

And, alas, I've never met Radu Lupu, though I did hear him perform Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto in Stockholm a couple of years ago.