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The Tough Life Of An Artist

Rome Daily American, 1966

Rome, Oct. 6 - Doodling on butcher's wrapping paper - endless reams of it - London painter Anthony Christian-Howard began a life of painting and drawing at three years of age.

Rome Daily American, 1963

Howard, today a successful young painter can afford to sit back and reminisce. Booked up for months to come with portrait commissions and contracted for further work in America where he plans to emigrate in a year or two, he is no longer threatened by financial worries. But the Englishman's life until quite recently has been one of the toughest, adventurous stories imaginable.

On a short stay in Rome, he talked and talked his through this, his romantic life story. The blond painter, wearing his Teutonic good looks with indifference, talked animatedly with youthful enthusiasm. First there was his fighting encounter with oils, filling in number color charts at seven years. Virtually labeled "how to spoil your painting style." these charts are usually not favoured by budding painters.

"I worked two years with them," said Christian-Howard, "rushing down to the shop girl when oils mixed transparent. In exasperation, she finally advised me to slosh it on with a knife - which I did."

Without Help

Without help, he practiced with oils and charcoal, withdrawing himself from a troubled family atmosphere. At ten years - young and unabashed - Howard presented some of his drawings (including a chariot race done three years before) to the National Gallery authorities. He got what he wanted - permission to paint a 57 inch by 41 inch copy of Phillip Wouwermans' 17th Century Cavalry Battle. Authorities thus broke the regulation of closed doors to all artists under 18 years of age for the first and only time in history.

For six years, standing first on a wooden soap box, the boy painter copied the difficult scene - full of boy beloved horses, action, blood and thunder. Two scrapped trials later and just after Howard's 16th birthday, the copy was completed to the tune of money offers for thousands of pounds and tremendous press coverage.

"It's hanging in my London flat today, over the mantelpiece," said Howard, glad he didn't sell his belaboured work. But he admitted that times had been so bad that he had tried to sell it, carting his Cavalry to Hyde Park where he only just resisted accepting the undignified sum of 25 offered him.

Adolescence

Christian-Howard's adolescence, unusual and difficult, is today considered excellent material for an autobiography. But publishers can't tempt him. "The time has not yet come," he explained. At 13, like a modern day Copperfield, left home for a precarious existence in the city of London - continuing his drawing between casual manual jobs. Two years later, he had his first and only brush with art training. Temporarily appealing to the County Council, he was sent to an art school. He left disgusted, after only a few weeks. Too much accent on the abstract instead of draftsmanship, drawing and painting, he concluded. Students should be taught on an individual basis by a painter whose work he respects, Christian-Howard still thinks.

Informing the Council of his newly-acquired independence, the boy became a butchers apprentice - "but I was clumsy with the knife," he admits readily. Painting at this time was continued in a disused coal shed.

Finally, he received his first commission for a landscape ("someone had a hole in his wall to cover"). He was paid the vast sum of 10 guineas. For the same price, he painted his first portrait study. Commissions seemed to beget commissions. Christian-Howard got his first break in the theater world ("I am particularly interested in painting theatrical personalities," he says today). He painted portraits of the registrar of the Authors' Association; Denzil Batchelor, "the wittiest man in London," then Hollywood's dress designer of the 30's, Howard Greer.

Penetrating

These penetrating studies in oils haunt the viewer. On a dark background, certain aspects such as hands or eyes or cheekbone are significantly highlighted - in a probing character analysis. The editor for the Tatler was soon to order a painting of his wife. Howard was becoming known.

Although the painter was determined to make his living by painting, this was not always possible. "Laboring and furniture removing pay very well," he said. A year ago, discouraged, Howard brought his new wife - manageress of a London hairdressing salon - to Italy. Returning here to Rome a year later, Howard is heartened by what has become a continual demand for his work.

"I couldn't possibly accept more painting commissions at the present time," he said, "and could only take a limited number of drawings - which of course takes much less time to do. If someone had told me this just a year or even six months ago," he said, "I wouldn't have believed it."