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A portrait of the artist as Ben Stokes

27 August 2019

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories

‘Cricket is an art’, wrote C.L.R. James in Beyond A Boundary (1963). ‘Like all arts it has a technical foundation.’ The greatest of all cricket writers would, no doubt, have enjoyed the artistry of Ben Stokes on the fourth day of the Ashes Test at Headingley, when the England player played the most improbable of innings, in the most impossible of circumstances, for the home side to win the game long after its batsmen had scurried over the brink of defeat.

But is there more to the art of Ben Stokes, Rakewell ponders, than one of the great individual performances in the history of cricket? Visiting Amsterdam last year, the cricket writer Mike Selvey was convinced that Vincent van Gogh had taken the nightclub-frequenting all-rounder for a subject as far back as the 1880s:

Indeed, for one Twitter user Stokes’s Headingley heroics were the perfect excuse to run through the Van Gogh canon, matching up the two men’s faces:

And it doesn’t stop there. Last year, when Stokes found himself in the dock charged with affray after a brawl in Bristol, his resemblance to Van Gogh even permeated its way into the work of one of our finest court artists:

And in happier circumstances, sports artist Paul Trevillion celebrated Stokes’s tournament-winning performance in the Cricket World Cup this year with his own portrait of ‘THE VAN GOGH OF CRICKET’.

Could it be, Rakewell wonders, that the Headingley crowd on Sunday had Vincent in mind, too, as they brandished their footwear in the air, chanting wildly: ‘Shoes off, if you love Ben Stokes… Shoes off, if you love Ben Stokes…’?

Shoes (1886), Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

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