Dilemmas: My brother's legacy is ruining my life

Angie's brother was a talented but totally unsung artist. When he died a year ago, Angie promised she would get his 300

huge abstract pictures to as big an audience as she could. But no dealer nor auctioneer will have the paintings and she's

having to spend pounds 4,000 a year storing them. She says she just can't throw them away. What can she do?


Deathbed promises should never be asked for, made, or kept. It's so difficult to refuse a request, when someone's dying, to change your name to Scaremongering-Bonkers, to bring your child up a Moonie, or to marry Mr Wrong. And then, for ever after, when you've broken the promise, you feel like an utter swine, riddled with guilt like a cancer. Or, worse, when you've fulfilled the promise, you feel eaten up with resentment.

Angie's brother has left her a terrible legacy - a legacy of his own unrealised hopes and dreams and, ultimately, what he saw as his inadequacies.

First let's look at it in a practical way. The Tate apparently gets large numbers of letters from relatives in exactly the same position. So Angie's not alone. And as far as any friends I have in the art world know, there has been not a single painter who had absolutely no success at all before he or she died, who has later been hailed as a genius. So the chances of Angie's brother launching himself as a great, or even reasonably OK, saleable artist from the grave are, to all intents and purposes, zilch. Big abstract pictures by complete unknowns, as Angie's found out, have no market value at all these days.

If I were Angie I'd blow this year's storage money on renting a large warehouse and having a huge exhibition. She should make slides of those pictures that don't sell and then either destroy them or give them away as canvases for young students to work on.

But, of course, this isn't a problem that's just about selling pictures. It's about bereavement. And guilt is a common little devil after a death. Perhaps Angie feels that at some level she wasn't a good enough sister to her brother when he was alive and selling his pictures would assuage her guilt. Perhaps she can't bear to acknowledge his death completely and is hanging on to some part of him. Perhaps in some awful way it's worth pounds 4,000 a year to put off the day when she has to acknowledge that he's really gone. While she still has his pictures on her mind he is, in a way, still alive for her.

I wonder whether it would help to see his work as being a necessary part of a much larger picture.

Like seeds in a field, millions need to be sown for a few to come up. If Angie could see her brother's work as some of the crucially important seeds strewn around the abstract movement, would his life's work seem quite so meaningless? Only some are chosen to survive, and sometimes they're not the right ones and it's not always fair, but they can't all thrive because there simply isn't room. As it is, there have been more than 10,500 "name" artists at work in Britain and North Ireland since the 1940s. There just isn't space for any more, even though these are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Goethe said "Our deaths keep the universe young". This means the death not just of people but also of their creations.

Angie's brother made a contribution in his way during his lifetime, if only to be part of the abstract movement in the ether. He and his art haven't died in vain. But to try to keep his works going at this stage is like slapping the cheeks of a corpse to bring it back to life.

Angie has tried to fulfil her bravepromise - she couldn't have done more. Now she should let both her brother, and his works, die in peace.


This is an impossible task

Angie does not yet know what she is up against. I do. My husband is a talented artist producing huge, unsaleable abstract paintings. I have spent 15 years, written hundreds of letters, cajoled dozens of gallery directors, humped the things around, up and down stairs, lifted and heaved them for hanging until I have nearly dropped with exhaustion. In 15 years, about six or eight have been sold. I have tried giving them away - no one wants them. If the pictures are oil on canvas on a stretched frame, I suggest Angie take them all off the frames and store them rolled up. The stretchers can be sold, or given, to art students. If the pictures are framed, she can sell the frames. Artists, in my experience, do not seem to realise that the fun and achievement of painting is in the act of "doing".



This is about bereavement

Poor Angie. She must have been very close to her brother and probably ambitious for him though I suspect that he just found his painting an absorbing and fulfilling hobby. In her grief I think that she is attempting to keep his memory alive. He might well have been shocked if he had realised that she would feel she must keep and sell his pictures - was he aware of what her promise would mean to her?

She needs bereavement counselling and the courage to get a frank professional assessment of the oeuvre - then hang a few small favourites in her home and get rid of the rest. I think this is what he would have wanted.


Maidstone, Kent

Why not try the Internet?

There can be no wider audience than the Internet. Why not set up a web page and take digital pictures of the paintings offering them for sale or free to a good home. This should certainly cost less than pounds 4,000 a year. If you don't know someone who can help you do this, there are evening classes in how to set up websites and in digital imaging, so you could gain a new hobby and friends too.


Bognor Regis, West Sussex

Send them to a hospice

Many hospitals and hospices have arts programmes that seek to lift the spirits of patients. It may be that (if suitable), the paintings could reach a wide audience if she offered them, on loan or for sale, to hospitals in her locality.


Arts co-ordinator, Gloucestershire Royal NHS Trust

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

This may seem trivial, but it means a lot to me. Recently I've seen a doctor at the local hospital, and a consultant. Though I'm middle-aged (and they're the same age or younger) they address me by my first name. What I find so annoying is that they expect me to address them as Mr or Dr So-and-So. To say "I'd prefer you to call me Mrs Palmer" sounds pompous, and I don't want a consultation to get off to an unpleasant start. How can I deal with this in a civilised way?

Yours sincerely, Sally

Anyone who has their advice quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send letters and dilemmas to Virginia Ironside, "The Independent", 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182, or e-mail dilemmas@independent.co. uk - giving a postal address for the bouquet

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent