Artist on Campaign
In 1809, London artist Ralph Oughtred has no interest in war until he is given a commission by the British Horse Guards to paint the senior generals. With a list of fourteen men, he goes in search of their London residences only to find that they have all gone to Portugal to fight Napoleon. Once there, he struggles to get the portraits made, chasing after them through marches and skirmishes, trysts and capture by the French.
This picaresque following of Mr Oughtred’s six-month-long sojourn is very much in keeping with the feel of a Georgian travel memoir. He is a man whose libido and ego drives him, and he has period attitudes towards foreigners, servants, and women. In truth, I did not find him to be a sympathetic character, nor could I root for his eventual happy outcome.
Artist on Campaign is well-written. The descriptions of the Portuguese landscape are dazzling, as are the portraits of the Spanish countryside. Battle scenes feel realistic and exciting. However, I do question the presentation of “no means yes” encounters with women, and the scraping eagerness of the Portuguese manservant. Not to say that we should alter the history to fit our modern sensibilities, but because what does this, written in today’s world, add to our conversation? If I wish to read these sensibilities, I can read source material. Not to say Mr. Oughtred needed to remain celibate and faithful to find him sympathetic, but I found myself wishing for a landscape or a battle so I wouldn’t have to hear Mr. Oughtred’s whinings. Excellent for enthusiasts of the period, but not for the layperson.