Last weekend I quickly caught the Ida Kar exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, having carefully calculated Mr Rush Hour would be able to keep both girls amused in the IT Gallery for as long as it took to get a ticket, look at every picture and read the captions for my favourites. It’s a great show where I could have happily lingered for an hour or so. There is a photograph of the Victorian painter Augustus John alongside the new abstract painter Sandra Blow, bringing home how rich the fifties and sixties were for biography . I enjoyed the portraits of two of my very favourite artists, Bridget Riley and Barbara Hepworth, both looking so strong and assured.
The portrait of Hepworth got me thinking about how hard it must have been for her to have and raise triplets in the 1930s. I have read that Hepworth’s first description of her surprise new born triplets was to descirbe them as, “looking pretty determined and fairly belligerent”. I love the unsentintimental truth of that.
Faced with triplets, an older sibling and only a studio to live in, Barbara ingeniously farmed them out to a local nanny college for a few hours a day and when the second world war began, the family moved to Cornwall where she ran a nursery school, drawing only at night, after the day’s duties were over. There’s more about how motherhood inspired Hepworth’s art here.
I wondered about other famous people who had twins or triplets. Google and there are lots of listings of current celebrities, keep scrolling and you eventually come to a mention of Cleopatra. This site tells us that she had twins with Mark Antony and then adds, I think without any irony, not to be confused with Jennifer Lopez’s husband. None of the parents of twins I know, on hearing the name Mark Antony would think of Jennifer Lopez, so here’s an eclectic list of other famous parents of twins – Madeleine Albright, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Malcolm X.