Transcriptions: Writing

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'Transcriptions: Writing' is a project inviting MA Creative Writing students from Birkbeck, University of London, to write a short fiction response to a National Gallery painting.

Hogarth, 'The Graham Children', 1742

James Evison

William Hogarth, The Graham Children
William Hogarth, 'The Graham Children', 1742

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These are not the children of tabloid photos. No 20th-century Kodak smiles here. Their poses are as formally sculpted as a gravestone. The lack of bright, hopeful greenery is devastating. No ball game in a park, horse by a lake, dog being stroked. Only mad cats and reaper scythes. A bird flapping wildly.

It is a procession of wax models: the porcelain skin sucked of peachiness – static, plastic dolls from horror movies. Life has been taken from them before it has properly begun. The ghost-white dresses confirm their lightness of being, and the distance from the firmness of adulthood.

It is even, for them, an impossible journey to become spotty, grumpy teenagers. Instead, at any moment, they look as though they could fly, become angels. The baby is almost there, raising the arm for flight to heaven, held back, by a finger on the pulse.