A D R I A N S T O K E S
M A I N I N T R O D U C T I O N - Richard Wollheim
The third consequence neatly turns the argument back on itself. Let us suppose that we lack a stable architectural setting (and in this connection Stokes thought that the modern movement only finished off what the late Victorians and Edwardians had begun). So the stability of life is threatened: and then the vitality of art is threatened. But the threat to art can be treated by art as a challenge: a challenge to provide those very values upon whose provision it has historically relied. Now Stokes used this thought skilfully and sensitively to account for certain contemporary manifestations of art. The best of abstract art, which Stokes fervently admired, filled a need. With its vast incantatory allure, it sets out to provide what he called 'the meaning that our streets refuse to us'. Interestingly, though, Stokes did not see this as the only solution. In his own work, which involved a massive commitment to the values of carving, with no more than the minimal use of envelopment, Stokes replied to the modern challenge in another more indirect way. It did not worry him that he was virtually alone in this.
Adrian Stokes was also a very close friend of mine, and it is of him as a friend that I should like to write in conclusion. I first met Adrian in 1958 and it was at Burlington House at a winter exhibition entitled 'The Age of Louis XIV'. My mood' at the time was not good, and coming out of the tea-room with him I looked avidly at the tall canvases of Georges de la Tour which he particularly admired. Indeed he particularly admired their tallness.
I had caught sight of Adrian a few months before at a famous occasion in the Slade when the art-historian Meyer Schapiro talked to a largely ignorant audience about the American painters of the forties and fifties. The lecture, which had influence on the development of local painting, was a dazzling performance, but I had some curiosity left over for the identity of a most remarkable-looking man sitting one row behind me and talking in a soft, restrained voice, of a kind that came and went and carried well, about Alberti. In his mid-fifties Adrian looked boyish with a head of rather vivid fair hair, slightly Venetian, which he ran his fingers through a lot, and I noticed that the skin of his face, which was evidently very delicate, was totally covered by a very fine criss-cross of lines. As though this wasn't striking enough, the pattern on his face was taken up in the pattern of his check shirt and his tweed suit, from which there billowed out - always - a large, slightly faded, silk handkerchief. He looked most like a great beaked bird: fierce in repose, but on the verge of tears when he smiled. He used to say that he looked like Mr. Punch, which was not very accurate, but it was also how he described Turner.
We met, then, a little later. At about this time I was asked to review Greek Culture and the Ego, and from this I came to know Mrs. Klein: I remember a meeting at her house, as well as at each of ours. Early on we went to Dulwich together to see the pictures. Amusingly enough, there had been a certain background to our meeting. As a young man Adrian had been a passionate admirer of the Russian ballet, so that when in 1929 the remarkable Serge Diaghilev died, it seemed to Adrian, as to many at the time, that without this man of hypnotic genius the ballet would wither away. So Adrian set out to discover the name of Diaghilev's impresario in London and then wrote to him, saying that he was a young man devoted to the ballet, with a capital of so many thousand pounds, and that he wanted to make over this capital so that the ballet could survive. How should he make out the cheque? There are two versions of what happened next. One is that there was no reply; the other is that Adrian received a letter, saying 'This is not what a young man does'. Either way round the upshot was the same, and, if the detail interests me, it is because it was my father to whom Adrian had written. If my father was in some circumstances good at encouraging the young, he was also, as I can attest, good at discouraging them. He drew the line, I believe,when he suspected impracticality or fervour. Anyhow Adrian kept his money, and in later years he told me he thought of my father with gratitude and once asked to see a photograph of him, which I could not find. I occasionally suspected that Adrian felt he owed this invisible benefactor more than just the money on which he lived as a writer and an artist. He felt that he also owed him the opportunity of looking after his money, and this (if I am right) is something he was particularly grateful for because it allowed him an experience which otherwise - to the delight of his friends, no doubt, but ultimately to his own inward chagrin - often eluded him: the sense of being altogether grown up.