If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.
Extract from The Soldier, 1914.
Today, at 4.46 pm, 100 years ago, the poet Rupert Brooke died of septicaemia on a French hospital ship, moored off the island of Skyros, where he is buried. He was on his way to Gallipoli to fight in that historic First World War battle.
I decided to start of my series of portrait of First World War poets who died during the war, last year. I was actually trying to find the right inspiration for another project and I could never get the right idea. The ideas and imagery for the portraits came to me whilst on a long car drive. Since I was a teenager, I had loved reading the poetry of Rupert Brooke, my favourite poem being ‘The Beginning’. As a teenager, the fact that Brooke was a beautiful man, dying in tragic circumstances, also aided my admiration for him. By it’s an admiration for his work, that has never waned.
The portrait of Brooke, was the first I completed. I have decided to keep the portrait quite ethereal, through the simple line drawing of the sewing machine to the delicate hand stitched details of his life. Upon his tie, I hand stitched the words of the poem ‘The Beginning’. Behind Brooke, as though a school map on the wall, is stitched a map of the World, with the words of ‘The Soldier’ stitched around it.
Throughout the portrait, I have stitched metaphors of Brooke’s life. Framing the picture is the olive leaves which are found in the olive grove where Brooke is buried. Hibiscus flowers and hollyhocks, symbolise his lost loves in England and Tahiti and the lilac flowers represent his famous poem ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester.’
This weekend, there will be many events to commemorate Brooke’s life in Grantchester and Cambridge and ‘The Second I Saw You: The True Love Story of Rupert Brooke and Phyllis Gardner’ and new book written by Lorna C. Beckett is having it’s official book launch.
In Newcastle, the Biscuit Factory, the UK’s largest contemporary art gallery, is currently exhibiting my portrait of Rupert Brooke, alongside that of Wilfred Owen, to commemorate Brooke’s death.