The extempore painting competition, organised by the Borgo degli Artist, has become one of Bagni di Lucca’s best established and most looked-forwards-to events in its social calendar. Full and part-time artists turn up with their blank canvases and paint-pots and choose a suitable location in the area around Ponte a Seraglio. My wife, Sandra, who definitely comes under the part-time category, has entered the competition no less than six times and the fun comes not really from hoping to win but just from taking part.
This year the day attracted around fifty entrants and it must have been very difficult for the judges to decide upon the prize-winners. In fact, there was a considerable difference of opinion among them but, eventually, the first prize was given for the following painting which I, among several others, thought was one of the most beautiful and inventive ones, even before the adjudicators started on their verdicts.
The competition comes along with slow food. In previous years one had to traipse along an itinerary across Ponte a Serraglio to obtain the separate courses – a somewhat laborious thing to do when in the height of summer and in the maximum heat of the day. This year, all food was served in the shady garden of the Villa Fiori, a spot which many entrants had chosen for their scene location.
Last year, one of the nuns who look after the nearby children’s nursery submitted a very competent entry. There were no children’s entries this year, which was a pity. Hopefully, next time..
Ponte has always been seen as the bohemian, demi-mondain and artistic hub of Bagni di Lucca. As Anthony Trollope’s brother Thomas Adolphus wrote in his memoir “What I remember” back in the Victorian era:
The “gay” world preferred the “Ponte, “where the gaming-tables and ballrooms were. The more strictly “proper “people went to live at the “Villa,” where the English Church service was performed.
Of course, the word gay has since changed its meaning but the tradition of more unconventional activities at Ponte a Serraglio has continued, as last night’s opening of the arts festival there also confirmed.
One of the joys of this kind of event is the chance to talk to other contestants. I have only painted window-frames and walls in my lifetime but I love looking at pictures and, even more, hearing what artists have to say about their work. One of them, for example, who delights in inserting bits of the current newspaper into their pictures, told me the reason why he did it was to give a sense of time and place to his work. I thought of those early cubists whose inserted collages of newspapers dating back to the 1910’s often make fascinating reading!
Painters, whose work I though was highly professional, turned out just to be amateurs. I was quite amazed at the variety and talent displayed in many of the entries but then thought of another great Sunday painter, Sir Winston Churchill, whose studio at Chartwell is filled with his vibrant creative endeavours. Churchill had the right idea – he painted for fun. As he wrote in his essay “Painting as a pastime”:
Just to paint is great fun. The colours are lovely to look at and delicious to squeeze out. Try it if you have not done so before you die.
I might just well do that.