The Buck Stopped Here: Laura Cumming’s tribute to double Diego

The Buck stopped here

The Buck stopped here is a weekly blog by our contemporary art correspondent Louisa Buck covering the hottest events and must-see exhibitions in London and beyond

At yesterday’s (14 January) launch of The Vanishing Man, her excellent book on Velázquez, the Observer’s art critic Laura Cumming spoke movingly of how thrilled she was to discover that Diego was the Spanish version of James, before proposing a toast to both Diego Velázquez and her late father, the Scottish artist James Cumming: “Fused in one name: painters Diego!”

Vanishing Man deftly intertwines the tale of one of art history’s most mysterious and magical painters with the true story of how an obscure 19th-century bookseller’s obsession, for what he believed to be a lost Velázquez portrait, brought him to ruination. But it is also a homage to the Scottish painter, and is dedicated to his memory. On the first page we learn that it was on a visit to Madrid 25 years ago, made in “raging grief” following the sudden death of her father, that Cumming visited the Prado and had her first Damascene encounter with Velázquez’s great painting Las Meninas. The vivid descriptions of, and passionate responses to, the Spanish master’s work that run through her book are surely a paternal painterly legacy.

But what many of the crowd gathered at the London Review Bookshop to salute both the tome and “the painters Diego” may not have realised, was that Cumming père was also a dead ringer for his Old Master namesake. Cumming marked the occasion by distributing a photograph that confirms the distinguished mustachioed Royal Scottish Academician would have looked right at home at the court of Philip IV.