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Barbara Tate : 2 June 1927 to 12 November 2009

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Tuesday, 24 November 2009 16:59

Bronze bust of Barbara Tate, artist

Barbara sadly and unexpectedly passed away on Thursday 12 November 2009. Her friend and editor of her upcoming book about her sojourn as a Soho working girl's maid, Richard Gallagher, delivered a fitting eulogy at her funeral service:

"I was asked to say a few words about Barbara and was honoured and pleased to accept even though I only met her a couple of years ago. As one of the people who have been working with her on her memoirs – which for those of you who don’t know is a memoir of her time in Soho in the fifties – I feel I know the young Barbara and the elderly Barbara but, no doubt a lot of you know the adult Barbara I never got to meet apart from through her wonderful paintings.

However, I do feel that a person is the sum of their parts and the kind, charming, wise and sometimes quirky lady I met still harboured within her the talented career artist whose love of light and colour and whose passionate attention to detail made her so popular and so respected, not only just in the art world but with the many, many people who enjoyed reproductions of her work.

She was very proud of her association with the Society of Women Artists, which she joined in 1972. She was their president from 1986 to 2000 and later became an honorary president. She also took great pride in her honorary professorship of Thames Valley University, which she was awarded in 1993.

In her memoir, Barbara wrote, ‘If there has been one burning, all-pervading ambition in my life that has never varied, never flagged, it is that, before I die, I will paint the perfect picture.’

Many of us feel that she achieved that ambition – and perhaps several times over – but Barbara, the consummate professional and always her own worst critic, was never quite satisfied. We once had a conversation about this and she reflected my own view that that ‘perfect picture’ is the unobtainable ambition that gives the artist her motivation to pick up her brushes again. I asked her if, had she ever felt she’d achieved it, she’d have continued beyond ‘perfect’. She said, ‘Oh, that picture doesn’t exist and never will. We have to have something to work towards; you know that.’ I realised then that Barbara understood herself very well indeed and, as I started to work with her in my capacity as a writer, I realised that she was one of those rare people who can be sensibly honest about life and very objective about themselves, their achievements and – it has to be said – the points where things didn’t go quite so well.

I know her life contained a lot of pain – none of us can avoid that – but it also contained a lot of pleasure. Barbara’s pleasure was partly in her undoubted success but, in later years, was equally routed in her relationships with the people around her and the people she met. She talked with huge affection and continuing love of her life with James – Jim – her late husband, her daughter, Inge and grandchildren, Josephine and Edward. She glowed with pride every time Stojan or Snezana – with whom she lived – appeared with their daughter, little Tara. She said, often, ‘That child is so loved,’ and I knew that she was talking about her own love as much as that of Tara’s mum and dad. Then, of course, there were her cats. Seeing her this last summer in the garden, surrounded by over a dozen feline fans as she – somewhat bizarrely I thought until she explained it wasn’t that unusual – fed lettuce to her massive fish was a real treat.

Many times, she described herself as being very like Alice of Alice in Wonderland and we could easily see her point. Like Alice, Barbara could look at life in a sort of detached way, befriending where she could, sympathetic where it was needed, giving advice when it was asked for but retaining a sense of adventure, never taking things at face value and, all the while, I liked to imagine, murmuring to herself, ‘Curiouser and Curiouser …’ She followed her white rabbit into Wonderland, took her place at the Mad Hatter’s tea party and was equally at home with talking with the Queen as with the Cheshire Cat. She will be sadly missed. I am very sorry she died before the book’s publication in June next year. I know she would have been a wow on Woman’s Hour."

Richard Gallagher, 24 Nov 2009

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