Memories of Pru

Gerard Hastings

I met Pru in 1980 and saw her often right up until she died. We used to meet at exhibition openings, dinners with Patrick Woodcock, parties at John Ball and Gordon Hargreaves’ flat in Gloucester Road or at Robert Medley’s house. She always turned up with paint on her hands, under her nails and even in her hair. We used to joke with her that while other women applied their various cosmetics and lipsticks before going out, Pru daubed herself up with paintbrushes.

When she was moving from Moore Park Road, in the early 1980s, Pru held a jumble sale of her paintings. We received invitations made on her old typewriter – ‘Sale! Sale!! Sale!!! For One Week Only. Everything must go. Free drinks. Prices Slashed! It’s unimaginable today. There were pictures on the walls, canvases stacked up, prints and drawings everywhere and small, unframed works under sheets of glass. We drank wine out of plastic cups. Pru was flogging off pieces dating back to the 1940s; no other painter of her stature would ever have done that. She had a little cash box for her takings and a notebook for her records, and knocked something off for bulk buys. I came away with half a dozen pieces for thirty pounds – which she even lent me! When I went round to return the money, she wouldn’t take it. Later, after I had secured an Art History teaching post, I saved up a few hundred pounds, (which was a lot then) and asked if I could buy a painting. ‘No, no, Gerard – I’ll give you a little something,’ she said, with her usual flustered brush-off. I didn’t want a little something, of course, I was trying to buy a canvas – but Pru wouldn’t take money from me. ‘How are your History of Art classes going?’ she would always ask. ‘Got any interesting students this year?’ She was very understanding of the demands that education made and said I had to put time aside for my own painting. Once, when I was giving her a lift home, she said ‘Of course, to painters like us, History of Art is a bit of a doddle; we were taught properly’ I remember being flattered that she considered me a fellow painter. In 1982 I went with Pru, Patrick and Sebastian Walker to visit her show at the Warwick Arts Trust. Sebbie wanted to buy several canvases and we spent an hour looking at her paintings. Looking back, it must have been agony for poor Pru – having to stand by as we discussed her work. When we came out I remarked that, after being with her paintings, I could now see Cloughs everywhere – in road markings, on ripped posters and stains on the pavement. ‘Oh dear,’ she replied, rather ruffled, ‘I’m going to have to do something about all that business!’

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