A rare portrait of an early computer has been rediscovered after a plea by its artist and The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC), where the computer itself has been fully restored to working order.
Kaldip Bhamber, an art lover, recently bought the huge painting to display in her Jam Street Café Bar in Manchester, a city renowned for its early computer heritage. Original artist John Yeadon and computer expert Kevin Murrell saw it last evening.
The Portrait of a Dead WITCH was painted in 1983 by John Yeadon after he had seen the original machine, the Harwell Dekatron / WITCH computer, in Birmingham’s Museum of Science and Industry. The computer itself was rediscovered dismantled and in storage in 2009 and moved to The National Museum of Computing on Bletchley Park where it was restored to become the world’s oldest original working digital computer.
The existence of the painting came to the attention of the Museum only last summer when it came across a reference to it in the Morning Starnewspaper. The artist was disgruntled that it had been auctioned off by a public body. Intrigued, Museum staff launched a campaign with the artist to find it.
The almost life-size 2m high by 3m wide painting, like its subject, has a fascinating history. It was created by artist John Yeadon when he became mesmerised by the ‘dead’ machine then on display in Birmingham. He described it as “a diabolical contraption, a dusty hunk of electric and mechanical hardware that reminded me of the disturbing 1950’s Quatermass science fiction television series”. Yeadon wanted to give the dead machine life, “but with humour and menace”.
For many years the painting was part of the Leicestershire Artworks Collection and then lodged with a school, but much to the chagrin of the artist, it was auctioned off privately last year. At that point, the painting seemed to disappear. John Yeadon’s search for it came to the attention of TNMOC which then launched a bid to find it.
Meanwhile, the painting was continuing to change hands and late last spring was bought by art-lover Kaldip Bhamber. “I think it is a gorgeous work of art, reminiscent of the work of the impressionists and especially Monet’s water lilies series,” explained Ms Bhamber. “I really didn’t have any idea of what the painting depicted, but I fell in love with it and bought it to display on a very large wall space in my newly opened café bar. Its bohemian character suits the Whalley Range area of Manchester perfectly!”
Ms Bhamber continued: “I have a degree in art and was astonished to be able to buy it. I was surprised at the time that there wasn’t more fuss being made about it. I always wanted to discover a lost artwork treasure and I harboured a secret notion this might be it! I started researching the origins of the painting and was astonished to find it on the TNMOC website and in press cuttings. The portrait’s back story was a complete surprise and I am overjoyed that it is indeed sought-after!”
The artist, John Yeadon, is thrilled: “The rediscovery of the painting has given the work new life rather like the reboot of its subject. Both are no longer dead! The painting looks so fresh as if it could have been painted yesterday! Paintings don't age like technology. Photography always refers to the past, a past moment, paintings are about now; even old paintings refer to the present. I was particularly pleased that Kaldip bought the painting because she 'fell in love with it'. I am delighted that it is back on public display."
Kevin Murrell, a trustee of TNMOC and the person who rediscovered the actual WITCH computer, is excited that the painting has been found. “We thought the odds of finding the painting again were very long. In fact, we even wondered if it still existed, but, like the WITCH itself, its survival instincts must be very high! As a trustee of the Museum that displays seven decades of computing history with working machines, I think this artistic interpretation of 1950’s computing is a rare and spell-binding find.”
Notes To Editors
Jam Street Café Bar
The portrait can be seen at the Jam Street Café Bar, 209 Upper Chorlton Road, Whalley Range, Manchester M16 0BH.
About The National Museum of Computing
The National Museum of Computing, located on Bletchley Park, is an independent charity housing the world's largest collection of functional historic computers, including the rebuilt Colossus, the world’s first electronic computer, and the WITCH, the world's oldest working digital computer. The Museum enables visitors to follow the development of computing from the ultra-secret pioneering efforts of the 1940s through the large systems and mainframes of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and the rise of personal computing in the 1980s and beyond.
The Museum runs a highly successful Learning Programme for schools and colleges and promotes introductions to computer coding amongst young people, especially females, to inspire the next generation of computer scientists and engineers. In 2016, Fujitsu will be creating a Fujitsu Innovation Hub in the TNMOC Classroom for visiting students and general visitors.
Funders of the Museum have included Bletchley Park Capital Partners, Bloomberg, CreateOnline, Ceravision, Fujitsu, InsightSoftware.com, Ocado Technology, FUZE, 4Links, Google UK, IBM, NPL, HP Labs, and BCS.
The whole Museum is currently open to the public from 12 noon - 5pm on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, spring and summer Bank Holidays and during long school holidays. The Colossus and Tunny galleries are open daily. Public and private Guided Tours are available and bookable online – see the website or the iPhone app for details. Educational and corporate group visits are available by prior arrangement.
For more information about TNMOC and trustees, see www.tnmoc.org and follow @tnmoc on Twitter and The National Museum of Computing on Facebook and Google+. A TNMOC iPhone App is also available from the iPhone App Store.
Stephen Fleming, Palam Communications