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The Waiting Game

Professor Thrupiece captured in Paris on either his first trip [1946] or second [1947]. His mother had insisted that he "wrap up warm". The woman accompanying him is unknown but may have been an interpreter from the Soviet Embassy. Those sceptical of the authenticity of the artwork currently under discussion have emphasised the dissimilarity in appearance between the six- or seven-year-old Thrupiece and the evidently more mature waiter portrayed in the picture.

"Not every Thrupiece portrait is authentic. This we know for certain", says Sotherbone's 20th/21st century portrait expert Penelope "Pen" Umbra. "His unique iconic status", she continues, "means that any and every artist with imagination is likely to indulge in the odd flight of fancy in which he or she [or ze [Ed]] imagines Professor Thrupiece is their model or muse and thus portrays him in situations and circumstances in which he would hardly find himself in real life".

Bearing this in mind, we cannot assume that every image of the Professor - of which more appear each month - is taken from life and available for use in biographical reconstruction. The temptation to make elisions - to confuse artifice with reality - is wholly understandable, official biographer Mrs Amanda J Threadbone has conceded. "So much of Professor Thrupiece's life [out of respect she still rarely uses his Christian name and never to strangers] is necessarily hidden in secrecy and shadow, that the desire to fill in the gaps, as it were, is almost overwhelming". That desire has led to any number of strange and highly contested assertions concerning the Professor's activities. We have seen the Professor - based on portrait evidence alone - depicted as a chiropodist, gynaecologist, sailor, painter and decorator, newsagent, shipwright, telephone engineer, rancher, ranger, tailor, stranger, chauffer, tap-dancer, window-cleaner, pig-whisperer, Eurovision Song Contest backing artist, chat show host, apiarist, supermarket check-out girl, pizza delivery boy, policeman, civil-servant, High Court judge, gigolo, ponce, nonce, traffic warden, street sweeper, gate-keeper, rough sleeper, dyke-leaper, grim reaper, frozen-jubbly merchant, mountaineer, bicycle repairman, television aerial installer, vicar, saint, night club bouncer, IT installer, patron, matron, train driver, truck driver, pile driver, ski instructor, tramp, vamp, stamp-cutter, wheelwright, blacksmith, blackfriar, courier, worrier, scurrier and furrier. Not enough then to be merely a celebrated Culinary bio-ethicist, teacher, inventor, international diplomat, astronaut, sportsman, racing driver, painter, photographer, movie star, author, comedian, singer, FIFA-critic and record-breaking horizontal jogger? No. Instead, we have had our credulity stretched beyond absurdity.

Today's Sydling St Nicholas Sun makes much of the portrait's biographical significance, though critics suggest this is not the first time the newspaper has "jumped on the bandwagon and driven it over the credulity cliff".

Now - perhaps most ridiculously of all - comes a claim [based on yet another discovered canvass] that he spent time in Paris as a waiter. The painting by Poyntington artist Cézanne Francksdiarée depicts a scene in a cafe-bar where four ladies are "being simultaneously serviced by a louche and lascivious waiter who appears to be ogling the breasts of one of the mesdames involves".

Despite the extreme unlikeliness of Professor Thrupiece [a] working as a waiter, [however straightened his circumstances] [b] servicing four ladies simultaneously [his record is believed to be three but when an even younger man] [c] ogling at the female form and [d] not spilling his load [he was famously unaccomplished at balancing a tray] plenty are prepared to believe that the portrait is indeed "taken from life".

Evidence that the Professor and the artist ever met is scant [Francksdiarée died in 1958 when the Professor was only 18], though a meeting cannot be ruled out entirely since by 1958 Professor Thrupiece had already travelled to Paris at least six times [the first three from 1948 onwards as part of the secret negotiations with the Soviets over his methane-rocket technology]. However, it seems unlikely that the man in the portrait is the Professor since the already distinguished would-be culinary bioethicist hardly needed to "earn his keep" during his frequent sojourns in the French capital and was only 18 at the time of the artist's death. This does not, however, settle the matter definitively since Thrupiece watcher - Bi Nocula - believes the Professor may have undertaken waiting duties either as a prank [he was notably mischievous from the age of 4 onwards*] or "to get a fuller sense of the ordinary lives of Parisians whose mores he so admired but whose lack of industry he despised". [He once famously described General De Gaul as "une grosse grenouille paresseuse".]

*Mrs Whisky-McNightly recalls an incident wherein the three-year-old Professor appeared in his parent's sitting room wearing only his mother's camisole over his head. "Having jiggled about a bit, he quipped, 'How's that for a pair of maracas?' It was quite remarkable. How we laughed"

Still, the balance of probabilities suggests either that Francksdiarée imposed an image of the Professor in an attempt to increase the value of his painting or that the likeness is a mere coincidence. Dorset Casino is currently offering 1/5 and 200/1 on the two scenarios respectively.

Homme académique du Dorset by Cézanne Francksdiarée - as always when the Professor is involved, a source of interest and controversy.

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