Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Miss Harlow

Just one million pounds to go in the appeal from The National Trust to buy The Procession to Calvary” by Pieter Brueghel the Younger image here , painted by the Dutch master in 1602 and valued at £2.7 million its part of the collection at Wakefields Nostell Priory which the National trust is buying from the Winn family who still currently own the contents of the house, the painting being the most expensive thing in the house, more expensive than all of the other contents added together.

Personally I’d walk straight past the painting, in fact having been to Nostell I probably already have walked straight past it for paintings of its like just do nothing for me, my interest in art doesn’t start until the mid-1800’s, I blame Miss Harlow…


In 1972 our all boys grammar school threw in the towel and allowed the all girls grammar school next door to envelope us in their womanly busoms, it wasn’t so much a merger as a military occupation, our Headmaster was reduced to a whimpering buffoon stood in the wings of the stage at assembly while his counterpart from the girls school, Miss Longworth ruled the roost and in doing so condemned us 800 boys to the realisation that life was just going to be more of the same, women always get their say and their way, we just accepted the status quo and got on with it.

My art mentor Bernard Phillips disappeared from our timetable and was replaced by the aforementioned Miss Harlow, before the merger us boys had not encountered a female within our school at all, now we were infiltrated, now we were being taught by them, and it was different.

No more flinging the board rubber at you if you were dozing off, no more bellowing at you from two inches in front of your face in sergeant-major stylee, no more endless sides of paper to write “I must not fight over biros in the classroom”, being taught by women of a certain age was a new experience for us 15 year olds and I must say, it was not necessarily better.

Miss Harlow was old enough to have known Pieter Brueghel the Younger, probably old enough to have known Pieter Brueghel the Elder, and she worshipped medieval art. We boys doing art to O level were shifted across to her care in her art room and immediately we became aware of the shift in emphasis from Bernard Phillips emphasis on colour mixing, harmonies, textures and the abstract taught from a musty old art room that whiffed pleasantly of tobacco, old paper and acrylic paint to Miss Harlows pink boudoir of an art room where drawing took the upper hand, drawing in meticulous detail, drawing a drawing to death – we spent one whole half term, six weeks, drawing a teasel head in our first sessions under her charge, a teasel head, looks like a thistle, I know teasels inside out now, ask me anything about teasels, I’ll say this about Miss Harlow, she taught me everything I ever need to know about teasels in those six weeks – its been fook-all use to me in my life so far but I’m sure that if the day ever comes when I need a teasel in a life threatening situation then I’ll be ready for it.

And it was Miss Harlow who introduced the subject of “The History of Art” as a subject during our A level years, a more boring and mind-stifling subject I cannot imagine for each week we would be herded into a small classroom, Me, Rick Thorpe and twenty assorted 17 year old girls who totally ignored us and our fascination for spotting a bra strap through a carelessly loosened blouse button, and we’d be subjected to slide shows of Renaissance works and the work of the Flemish artists.

When I say “slide show” I really mean one slide, for the whole forty minute lesson was always taken up with one slide of one ancient painting and we’d be expected to discuss it at length, make notes, be able to speak of it in glowing terms at some point in the far distant future, be expected to speak in glowing terms of the craft and artistry of these Old Masters when examination time came around – to this day if you show me a Van Eyck I can resoundly state with an air of absolute authority “Thats shit that is”.

Surprisingly I did not step up to the plate to take my History of Art A level, I didn’t even take my Art A level (drawing of teasels a speciality) for I left school halfway through the course, left behind the ancient old harridan Miss Harlow and her pink decorated boudoir of an Art Room, left behind twenty 17 year old girls to show absolutely no interest at all in Rick Thorpe, lone male in Miss Harlows room of frigidity, I know what became of Rick Thorpe and I leave him to your imagination…


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