365. H.M. Bateman

1887– 1970
A Ventriloquist at Christie’s
Size: 34 × 49 cm
Watercolour on paper

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H.M. Bateman was the great cartoonist of the first half of the 20th century, and one of the greatest cartoonists of all time. A Ventriloquist at Christie’s was among his best-known works, and although it has not been seen publicly for more than half a century, it has a page of its own on the internet. The first time I was invited to lunch in the board-room of Christie’s, I noticed there was a framed photograph of the cartoon above the sideboard. Only much later did the original come my way.

Bateman portrays himself in the back row as the ventriloquist, the little man who dares to confuse the art world with his cheeky performance. Bids bounce off every animate and inanimate surface. Daumier mocked the world of art connoisseurship in a specifically French way, and here Bateman does something similar, but more delicately.

Provenance: Leicester Galleries, 1974
Mark Shand