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A lifetime of memories over a turbulent century

06 October, 2017 — By John Gulliver

Celebrating on Monday with Pauline at her home in Regent’s Park, Camden mayor Richard Cotton, councillors Lazzaro Pietragnoli and Pat Callaghan (seated) and friend Mary Wylie

SOMEHOW, she moved through the crowded room with a gentleness of spirit – almost regally – and, by accident I’m sure, positioned herself under a magnificent charcoal drawing by her late husband.

This was the occasion of all occasions on Monday afternoon, a celebration of Pauline Baines’ 100th year – and no doubt she would have wanted her husband Harry to share the glorious moment.

As a couple they would have been in earlier years a little like political royalty, both with decades of membership of the Labour Party in Primrose Hill, and both recognised artists – she, a sought-after book designer, rising to be art editor of the celebrated art publishers Thames and Hudson; he to become one of Britain’s acclaimed figurative draughtsmen.

Their third-floor front room in Regent’s Park Road reveals their lives together, sculptured pieces fashioned in India, shelves groaning with books, many of them art editions designed by Pauline, and now hanging above her as she sat the centre of attention, several works by her husband.

Pauline’s parents, Sonia and Moses Behr

The highest praise for one of the works, exhibited in the early 1950s, came from the art critic John Berger who said Harry “communi­cates what he feels by means of superb draughts­manship. The weight of a stone that a woman carries on her head can be seen in her ankle…”

Both had been Labour stalwarts. After Harry died in 1995, Pauline hardly ever missed a local meeting – a membership secretary for many years, a volunteer for all the necessary odd jobs, and until her movements became restricted two years ago, she would always be ready and waiting for a meeting to begin. Comrades went a little in awe of a woman who, though 98 at the time, would be there, looking up at the speaker, alert… eager to participate.

Affection and respect mingled among the local councillors who had turned up for the party – after all their combined party membership would be less than Pauline’s. They sat close to her – the Camden mayor, Richard Cotton, Pat Callaghan and Lazzaro Pietragnoli, and when the cake arrived, with its single candle, encouraged Pauline to blow it out which she did without any trouble.

And then, lustily from the mayor, came Labour’s anthem, The Red Flag.

What could be more fitting for Pauline who, it turns out, is a Corbynite.

Pauline’s late husband, the artist Harry Baines

Memories also for an amazing episode in her husband’s life who in the late 1930s, then a political activist, and a member of the Communist Party, did something quite extraordinary – he and fellow artists were entrusted by the great artist Picasso, who wanted to use his masterpiece Guernica to spread its anti-war message, not to exhibit it in a gallery but in a more public space. So, Harry Baines and his colleagues nailed it to the wall of the former showroom of a Ford dealer in Manchester. A display of creative, political action, typical of Harry Baines.

Pauline, of course, didn’t know Harry then but recalls her husband’s account. “He said it arrived rolled up and there was concern whether any of the paint had flaked off,” she said. “They found a sympathetic car dealer with a showroom large enough to accommodate the whole painting.”

More than 25 feet in length, it is now on exclusive display in Madrid.

The lives of this extraordinary couple which spanned the past century had different beginnings – Harry from a Manchester family, Pauline from a family that fled from anti-Jewish pogroms in Lithuania at the turn of the last century, and both had settled at No 10 Regent’s Park Road, a Modernist four-storey block designed in the 1950s by the inspirational architect Ernest Goldfinger.

I believe there are few alive today who have met the great man. “What was he like?” I asked. “I remember he was very tall,” said Pauline, “and whenever I met him he would introduce me to a little old lady who was his mother…”, she gave a quiet laugh.

The party ended, the guests left, and I said goodbye, kissing Pauline’s right hand in the old-fashioned style she would have been used to – with her Lithuanian family – all those years ago.

• Pauline will actually celebrate her 100th birthday on Monday, October 9, with close family members.


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