Original sins

Image of David Tang

Sir David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

Oh come on, why do you object to reproduction pictures? I see no reason for not hanging a reproduction I like if I can’t afford to buy an original and don’t want to steal it.

I object to reproductions because they never get the originals right with their sizes, colours, patinas, textures, and worst of all, they are invariably framed in faux frames that are laughable. It is offensive to see masterpieces cheapened – imagine looking at “Sunflowers” without Van Gogh’s heavy use of paint, or Michelangelo’s hands of God and Adam in a 2ft by 3ft rectangle! Those of us who have got an ounce of imagination do not need to be reminded by fakes or reproductions for artistic stimulations. Just by looking at a blank wall, we should be able to get an image in our mind. On the day when Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre, Kafka was in Paris and he made a point of visiting the blank space left on the wall from the theft. I am certain that he derived a frisson from seeing the work in virtual reality. Shakespeare, in the chorus of Henry V, specifically encouraged the audience to imagine the modest stage as “the vasty fields of France ... that did affright the air at Agincourt”. So if you can’t afford the real McCoy, then leave your walls blank and summon up your mighty imagination, or say “No, no”, as in Nanette, to all reproductions. Stupid children now tell me they no longer need to visit galleries nor museums because they can easily see, at their fingertips, high definition images in their computers. This is alarming. Last week, listening to The Rite of Spring, I had a real urge to see “Guernica”. I also watched a war movie, and I was desperate to see “Gassed”. The feeling of inadequacy is the same as being, say, at a live performance of the Rolling Stones, as opposed to listening to them on an iPod. These stupid children should be dragged by the scruff of their necks to see the Picasso in Madrid and the Sargent at the Imperial War Museum. Not even the stupidest of them could fail to be moved by the sheer scale and grandeur of these masterpieces, which each represent very differently the horrors of war. It shows that art does not only produce beauty through beautiful things, but also immense pathos through ugly things. It’s imagination you need to steal, not originals.

Should a magnificently long mahogany table always be covered by a white tablecloth? Is any other colour tablecloth permissible? Or are there circumstances in which only table mats should be used?

It is acceptable, at breakfast, to use table mats rather than a full long tablecloth. It is how the table is set at a typical shooting breakfast, with the broadsheets and tabloids spreading themselves over the butter and marmalade. But at dinner, with candles lit and curtains drawn opposite a glowing log fire, a crisply ironed white tablecloth is an indispensable part of a visual feast. White is de rigueur, except perhaps with a piece of over-washed and over-starched damask in beige. I possess a perfect example of this from old Australia, if that is not an oxymoron. The truth is that the stature of a long tablecloth is defined by its stiffness through starching and the prominence of its creases. One of the most puzzling questions under which I have laboured for years and to which I have yet to meet anyone able to provide a cogent answer is: how did Leonardo da Vinci manage to paint, in his “Last Supper”, the long tablecloth with immaculate creases in perfect rectangles? I can’t quite believe that people ironed table cloths in AD33, when Jesus Christ had his last meal. Or was it, inconceivably, already a bourgeois practice by the 15th century when Leonardo lived? If old Leonardo was offering verisimilitude, how did people manage to obtain the beautiful creases? It is a practical fact that you cannot fold anything more than seven times, and presses and mangle boards and flat irons didn’t come into use in Europe until the 18th century, even though I believe we clever Chinese were using pan irons on fabrics as early as the 12th century. But we didn’t have a Leonardo Wong!

I notice that lately you have been bothered with some quite stupid questions. Please tell me how you are coping with that.

I would say in exactly the same way as I am coping with you, to wit, with aloofness and contempt. Don’t worry about me. You look after yourself.

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

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