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Italian police give Troubles artist brush-off


Ulster Crucifixion (1978) by Ken Howard

Ulster Crucifixion (1978) by Ken Howard

Ulster Crucifixion (1978) by Ken Howard

An artist known for his work in Northern Ireland during the Troubles has criticised "overzealous" police in Venice after being removed from the city's famous St Mark's Square.

Ken Howard served as the Imperial War Museum's official British artist in Ireland between 1973 and 1979.

The 86-year-old was painting one of his favourite views on Tuesday when two police officers approached him and told him to stop and pack up his easel.

He was sheltering from the rain after initially setting up his easel along the Riva degli Schiavoni, a stretch of canal bank a few hundred yards away.

The artist, also a former president of the New English Art Club and a professor of perspective at the Royal Academy, told police he had used the same spot for decades, but they remained unmoved.

"I first came to Venice in 1958 and I've never had a problem," Mr Howard said.

"But all of a sudden they've brought in new rules which say you have to have a permit.

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"It's a bit daft."

He duly went to the municipal office which issues the permits, only to find that it was closed.

"They told me to come back tomorrow. I said: 'I'm terribly sorry but I'm busy and I have to work'. I don't think I'll go back to the wretched office.

"I'll take a chance."

Dora Bertolutti, his Italian wife, said: "No one has ever tried to stop him from painting in Venice before.

"But when they told him to pack up, he did. He's very British - he's obedient and didn't want to make a fuss.

"But he's fed up with this stupid bureaucracy."

Police defended the officers' intervention: "They acted correctly.

"It was raining and lots of people were trying to pass along the portico of the Procuratie," said Marco Agostini, the commander of the municipal police.

"If we had not intervened there would have been complaints. There are rules and they need to be respected by everyone."

Mr Howard's work is in several public collections including the Ulster Museum, the Imperial War Museum and the National Army Museum.

Of his time spent here, he said: "Belfast had a terrible beauty at that time - the Lower Falls, the derelict houses, the incredible graffiti, both in Catholic and Protestant areas, both very different.

"The grey weather, the rain, the reflections, everything conspired to create a drama I have never found elsewhere."

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