Xenophobe’s Guide… to the English

A Man who Suddenly Fell Over 1952 by Michael Andrews 1928-1995
A Man who Suddenly Fell Over, 1952, by Michael Andrews

For many years, I’ve been searching for artworks that reflect on the Russian character. Perhaps, one day the collection I’ve assembled gets published as an illustrated book on the mystic and mysterious Russian soul. For Russia, it was easy, for each Russian artist strives to be a Leo Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky and loads up his or her paintings with existential meaning. They don’t happen to hit the right chords very often, but as the effort is massive, so is the result.

International artists, in general, have always enjoyed more freedom than Russians. They could travel continents, could move to live outside of their home countries and seem to have concerned themselves with a more global agenda. They didn’t have to focus on their national issues. Still, I keep looking, and sometimes I find gems. So, welcome to a new rubric: the xenophobe’s guide to different nationalities.

Today’s gem was cut by Michael Andrews, a School of London artist when he was 24, and 24 years before the term the School of London was coined by a critic.

A man comes a cropper and, given his weight and height, plus the reaction of the woman who witnessed his fall, it must have been bloody painful. Yet, instead of crying out in pain and frustration, he grins apologetically, all the while making every effort to lift himself up even before the fall is complete.

This is very English.

Keep the head held high, stiffen the upper lip, and put the best foot over.

For the unordained foreigners, the translation is “stride with pride and determination and do not betray your emotions”. No trembling lips, luv. That’s why there’s no angst in the man’s face.

Now, imagine a man with a stiff upper lip who strides confidently with his head held high. Gosh! Talking to him is difficult, intimacy is impossible.

And then he falls.

What do you do if you are English? Well, even if you are Russian, you cringe, because there’s that basic empathy: yawning is contagious. And then Englishness kicks in. You wait to see if the man is dead or alive. If he is barely alive (he is moving but not coming up), you may offer help but be prepared to get a curt “no thank you”, in which case you keep doing what you’ve been doing and pretend that nothing has happened. If he is alive regardless of how bloody mangled up he is (he broke his arm, his leg, but seems to want to stand up), you carry on for the man is obviously in no need of assistance.

That’s what the lady in the painting is doing: nothing except cringing and even that is frowned upon unless she displays suitable embarrassment afterwards; then her emotional break-down can be forgiven.

If you know of any artworks that reflect the character of your nation, send me links, and let’s collaborate!

P.S. If you read this, and you are English, don’t go all Mediterranean on me )


  1. When I think of British art I think of John Constable and his glorious English country side. Not this uncomfortable situation that is depicted by Andrews. When I think of Russian artists I think of Vladimir Tretchikoff and his lovely green faced Oriental lady. I met him once at one of his shows in Toronto. My mother had a copy of this painting. For Canada I prefer Paul Peel – not the group of seven. Paul Peel has the most delightful settings of children before and after the bath. I guess that makes me rather old school. Of course there’s always me for a Canadian artist.

    1. Hi Leslie – well, I was talking more about the national character rather than Englishness in general, but yes, Constable is also one of my favourites. As for Peel – his paintings of happy peasants intended to make city bankers happy – I understand the commerz behind it, but I have been exposed to too much of propaganda to like such art. But (!) his “good news” with a lady on a beach reading a letter – is a masterpiece. Thanks a lot for your input – Kyrill

  2. Thank you for this very good read.& Thanx for turning me on to (onto?) Michael Andrews.
    I WILL investigate. thanx gray

    1. You are very welcome – He is an interesting artist, but I am not a big fan of him, especially because of the method he adopted later in his career: working from photographs. I believe this method kills spontaneity, replacing it with purely rational calculation of changes the artist needs to make to photographs and the message each of these changes signifies.

  3. thank you. indeed, looking at expression – blank for the gross male, pressed for the little female – one sympatizes with the latter mainly. Special for a post appearing April 12th: the world in part sunny, bright, and for the other part fighting for life, struggling to get deaths into their grave.
    Since the world should go on, in a different direction (we aim), such post is very appropriate.
    thanks again, Drager

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