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Reminiscences of Kay Kinsman

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medium_kinsman.jpgJune 27, 2009 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kay Kinsman. This artist of international repute will be remembered not only in Lennoxville and Montreal, but also in the many other parts of the world which had the pleasure of playing host to this unique lady.

I first met Kay in the early 1970s in Evesham, a small Cotswold town in England, where I was the proprietor of the Habit Gallery, an artist’s colourman, picture framing and fine art business. One afternoon I returned to the gallery to be told that “a rather unusual, wild haired lady” had brought in about two dozen watercolours to be mounted and framed for an exhibition. Now, 24 big paintings was, by any standard, a good and potentially profitable piece of business so I opened up the portfolio with some trepidation, concerned that my new client may be not only eccentric but also untalented and unable to pay the very hefty bill which would inevitably follow.

Anyone seeing a Kinsman for the first time, even one safely caged behind glass and hemmed in by a frame, will know the feeling of being tied to the back of a dancing horse, the senses assailed by swipes of colour, seemingly undisciplined yet defining objects so precisely. Shapes outlined in coloured pen, wild but accurate nevertheless. Can you begin to imagine my feelings as I took out 24 of these incredible paintings! As I spread them out, I felt that I should nail them to the counter to stop them from escaping. For a few moments, I was tormented by indecision – were they very, VERY good, or indescribably bad? At last I pulled myself together and placed a ready cut trial mount over each painting in turn. As I did so, each one showed itself to be what I had hoped – the product of a master artist. In those few moments, I knew that I was going to love for ever an old lady I had not even met.

We did meet the following day when she came in to discuss the presentation of her work. She was charming, modest and quiet, but underneath, very strong and confident of her skill. I found myself agreeing without hesitation to some substantial discounts and eagerly accepted her suggestion that I could take some work in part payment of my fee. I managed to arrange to have first choice of one painting from every batch she brought in. This painting would be expensively mounted and framed and would go into the exhibition with the red dot in place! Kay knew I would choose the best and when one set of Spanish scenes came in, I grabbed one and shouted MINE! She grinned and turned the painting over. There, on the back, she had written ‘Franck’s Picture.’

Kay was living at the time in a beautiful old stone house in Broadway, a few miles from Evesham, and I have her painting of this house. It is, I think, the best example I have ever seen of her magical ability to capture light and mood. The rather ‘genteel’ inhabitants of Broadway were somewhat at a loss to know what to make of Kay at first but within a few months of arriving she had won their hearts and was quick to become an active participant in village life. Even those people she had (gently and so kindly) mocked a little in her ‘Broadway Sketchbook’ would forgive her anything.

When, one day, she announced her intention to go, that very evening, to Spain, on a painting trip of undecided duration, her friends held an on-the-spot farewell party. Bottles, food and people arrived in an instant and eventually Kay was waved off in a taxi, with cheers of encouragement and goodwill ringing in her ears. It was, Kay confided to me later, a shock to find she had forgotten her passport, but not wanting to lessen the emotional climax of her farewells, waited up the road for half an hour before returning, under cover of darkness, to recover that document.

Time passed, Kay came in and out of our lives, changing houses after longer absences but always to somewhere romantic, like a cottage under the walls of the 1000-year-old Pershore Abbey. The recession of the later 1970s took my business, and I had to move and begin again to build a career to maintain my family. A few letters passed between us from Canada and I saw her just once again in the early 1980s when she visited family in England. It was, for me, a sad parting. I now had a life of deadlines and city stress and could no longer share her life of joyful creativity. Her last words to me as we said our good-byes, were ‘never mind, Franck, you’ll be rich when I’m dead!’ (Kay had always joked that no artist ever had the benefit of high prices during her lifetime – prices only rose after the poor painter was deceased). Well Kay, I am fortunate. I now live in modest comfort in my retirement with a house in France and an apartment by London. I’m not rich rich, and never will be if it means having to sell your paintings!