Captain Moonlight: A brush with the rich and famous

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LOOK at this picture. Charming, is it not? Should you be having difficulty placing the sitters, they are the Duchess of York and her two daughters, the Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie. The Duchess of York was so taken by it that she is giving it to her estranged husband, the Duke. It is by Barbara Kaczmarowska-Hamilton, a Polish artist. Ms Hamilton is our leading social portraitist. She works in pastels and her nickname is Basha. Her list of subjects includes Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, many other leading figures in English society, and Sir Peregrine Worsthorne. And Professor Norman Stone.

What? You don't like it? Well, the Captain thinks it most affecting, and I have to say I resent comparisons with that picture which used to be so popular in Boots, and even more so with those chaps who dash off a quick likeness along the Costa Brava and just off Piccadilly Circus. Basha, I would have you know, graduated from the Academy of Art in Gdansk and the Accademie di Belle Arti in Venice and Rome.

Sorry? Ask Brian Sewell, the respected art critic of London's Evening Standard? All right. 'It's frightful,' said Brian. But, I protested, Basha is the leading society portraitist] 'That depends,' retorted Brian, 'on exactly what you mean by 'society'. If you're talking about Eaton Square and Sunningdale, where the Harrods School of Portraiture reigns supreme, that would be right. This is the kind of ghastly stuff that hangs in houses where they have blinds made from knicker silk, above the mantlepiece, between two sconces from Peter Jones.'

Brian was warming up. 'There's always a market for bad taste. She would not be nearly so successful if she were charging half the price. She is punishing people for having portraits by her.' Basha herself was absolutely charming. She said, if I understood her, that she liked to look for the best in her sitters. She did not want to talk about commissions and prices. After all, Van Gogh hadn't sold a picture. But this reported price for the picture of the Duchess and her children, this pounds 1,000. Other clients would be annoyed. It cost much more. I didn't like to ring Brian.

(Photograph omitted)

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