Tuesday, June 02, 2015


A Strained Expression

Ted Morgan, Maugham (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980), pp. 566-567, with note on p. 663:
November 30 was Churchill's eightieth birthday. He was ten months younger than Maugham. To honor the occasion, both houses of Parliament had commissioned a portrait by Graham Sutherland, who was now established as a portraitist of powerful men and women....Sittings began in August, and the portrait was ready for the unveiling in Westminster Hall on November 30. Since Sutherland worked from sketches, Churchill was seeing the portrait for the first time. It showed him sitting in an armchair, with his hands clutching the ends of the armrests, his face pugnacious and warriorlike.

Churchill called it "a remarkable example of modern art," but his true feelings were otherwise.

"I don't like it," he told Maugham.

Maugham asked why.

"It doesn't make me look noble," Churchill said.

"How does it make you look?" Maugham asked.

"I look as if I was having a difficult stool," Churchill replied.31

31 [Maugham's secretary Alan] Searle to [Patrick] O'Higgins [in an interview].
Although the portrait itself doesn't survive (Churchill's wife destroyed it), we know what it looked like from copies, including this one by Brian Pike:

This reminds me of an anecdote about the Roman emperor Vespasian, who had a habitually strained expression. Suetonius, Life of Vespasian 20 (tr. J.C. Rolfe), tells the story:
He was well built, with strong, sturdy limbs, and the expression of one who was straining. Apropos of which a witty fellow, when Vespasian asked him to make a joke on him, replied rather cleverly: "I will, when you have finished relieving yourself."

statura fuit quadrata, compactis firmisque membris, vultu veluti nitentis: de quo quidam urbanorum non infacete, siquidem petenti, ut et in se aliquid diceret: "dicam," inquit, "cum ventrem exonerare desieris."
Martial 3.89 made a similar joke:
Use lettuce and soft mallows: for you have the look, Phoebe, of one who is taking a hard crap.

utere lactucis et mollibus utere malvis:
   nam faciem durum, Phoebe, cacantis habes.


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