- Posted by Amy Bell
- On June 16, 2022
A message from BritishSpanish Society Chairman Jimmy Burns Marañón in memory of our dear colleague and friend
Paul Pickering, art history lecturer and gallery guide and Executive Council member of the BritishSpanish Society, sadly passed away peacefully on June 15.
He had with a heavy heart asked to be temporarily relieved from his volunteering as well as other work commitments, stepping down from the Board of Trustees at the BritishSpanish Society at the last AGM .
That he did so requesting minimum fuss and wishing his successor and the charity all the best, was typical of his generosity of spirit and character, which made him greatly valued as a colleague and a friend.
Paul, typically below radar, had in fact been battling stoically cancer for a while, and had been very ill for the last few months. As posted on Facebook by one of his close friends Brendan Quirke, with permission of his sister Elaine, he was transferred from the Royal Marsden Hospital in London to a nursing home in St. Helens, his home town, a few days before he died. This meant Elaine could visit him regularly and this was a source of great comfort to him. Brendan will be updating about the funeral arrangements via Facebook.
I wanted to take this opportunity as a friend, long-term colleague, and chairman of the BritishSpanish Society, to pay tribute to Paul, who I got to know and began volunteering together with many years ago when he signed up as an enduring member of the then Anglo-Argentine Society (renamed by a vote of members during my predecessor’s Dame Denise Holt’s chairmanship) .
Paul was a quietly spoken, engaging, fun, hugely cultured, and kind human being – in many ways a quintessentially English gent or perhaps a fine hispanista academic ‘don’ or ‘tutor’ of great humanity, hugely knowledgeable but never boasting about it. He was not a self-promoter nor a workaholic burning up with ambition. He followed life at his own rhythm which, while never rushed, flowed like a constant stream, opened to the elements of good company and ideas.
He enjoyed home cooking for his friends, when not walking London art galleries, urban mysteries, or green spaces with others. He found in Spain and its people, as well as England and its people, a place to share his love of art and its history, and of good food and wine.
As he grew older Paul drew on his experience, rather than squandered it, sharing a lot of what he knew best not just with his own generation and those older, but also as a discreet and never overbearing mentor to younger friends, and with his warm, selfless enthusiasm for life and the beauty of creation , encouraging students to be curious, to develop their talent and pursue their dreams, but never trampling on others.
I know how many BritishSpanish Society members of all ages will mourn his death, while celebrating his life. They owe to him their respect for Spanish art and art history, and also for the best of British culture, thanks to Paul’s unique participatory ‘tours’ among a group of priceless paintings at some eminent English art gallery or museum exploring the architectural wonders of London.
Even when he knew that his health was fading, Paul courageously volunteered to conduct a hugely imaginative ‘tour de force’ BritishSpanish Society webinar on Titian’s relationship with Prince Philip 11 of Spain. Then in the first break between lockdowns, he took a group of us on a similarly personable as well as uplifting ‘live’ walk along Whitehall, sharing wonderful facts and anecdotes about emblematic locations, from the historic foundations of Parliament Square to the site of King Charles I’s last moments before execution.
I will never forget Paul pausing at one point in his Whitehall tour to tell us, with scarcely contained emotion, how the magnificent surviving ceiling canvasses of the Banqueting House by Rubens, depicting the grandeur and achievement of the Stewarts – The Union of the Crowns, The Apotheosis of James I and The Peaceful Reign of James I – was among the last sights on earth that Charles saw before he stepped up onto the scaffold. I reflected later that there was something in it of a story foretold, which Paul must have had an inkling of in terms of his own suffering, and his way of dealing with it.
Paul was an exemplary colleague who I never heard bad mouth anyone, and knew, without pushing it, when his wise advice could be hugely helpful in its offering. He exemplified the BritishSpanish Society’s mission in always seeking to build bridges of cultural and educational understanding between the people of Britain and Spain.
His deep-rooted Catholicism showed itself in his selfless service to others, and searching for God in all things, not least in the limitless possibilities of art and the similar blessings to be found in reaching out to other people.
Que en Paz Descanses, Querido Paul