Painting and otherwise depicting the naked human body is as old as art itself, and at times women have distinguished themselves in this field, the 16th Century Italian painter Lavinia Fontana
is a classic example. Painting naked or even semi-naked children is alas a different matter and has been certainly throughout most of the 20th Century.
Graham Ovenden was born in 1943 and took up art as a young man. He also became a photographer and author; in 1976 he published Nymphets And Fairies: Three Victorian Children's Book Illustrators
Ovenden married a fellow artist whose main interest appears to be landscapes; she also taught art. The two had a daughter, but divorced, and she remarried.
The first time Graham Ovenden came to the attention of the law was not for interfering with underage girls but for an alleged old-fashioned fraud for financial gain. In November 1980, he and the photographer Howard Grey stood trial at the Central Criminal Court; Ovenden was charged with obtaining £1,140 from a company director by representing modern photographs as having been taken in the 19th Century.
Both men were cleared, and in May the following year, the London Times
ran an article in which it was claimed that any contemporary photographer could fool the experts if he did his homework. Indeed, both Christie's and the National Portrait Gallery had been fooled; this somewhat comical exercise appears to have been what motivated Ovenden and Grey rather than financial gain.
His later clashes with the law were anything but comical. He fell foul of obscenity laws in both the UK and the US, the latter when his book States Of Grace
was seized by American customs. In the UK, some of his photographs were seized but a prosecution was halted by the high and mighty. A prosecution for creating indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs of children collapsed in 2009 and was thrown out in its entirety the following year.
The law concerning "pseudo-photographs" is at best a legal minefield and at worst, repressive. The CPS Guidelines concerning indecent photographs of children
and are lengthy and both comprehensive and vague, if you can imagine that. Should it really be a criminal offence to possess an image of a child that is not a real child? Ie a computer generated image or even a hand drawing? Our masters seem to think so.
Alas, that is no longer the issue with Graham Ovenden, because in June this year, he was convicted
of not only six counts of indecency but one of indecent assault concerning underage girls dating back to the 1980s and 1990s. For reasons which he explained, the judge saw fit to hand him only a suspended sentence, but instead of being grateful, outside Plymouth Crown Court, Ovenden displayed incredible arrogance when in protesting his innocence he claimed
he was probably twenty times more intelligent than most people.
Tomorrow morning he will not be quite so arrogant when he wakes up in a prison cell. Like the unduly lenient sentence imposed on another paedophile, Stuart Hall
, Ovenden found himself in front of the Court of Appeal on an Attorney General's reference
. This resulted in the Lord Chief Justice quashing the suspended sentence and replacing it with a 27 month custodial sentence. Ovenden's appeal against conviction was also dismissed.
Historic cases of sexual abuse are seldom easy, and there can be credibility problems with witnesses, including adult witnesses, and of course with police officers. Having said that, few people will question the veracity of the evidence against Ovenden. There is though one issue that does not seem to have been addressed. His youngest child model - though not necessarily his youngest victim - was six years old. This begs the question where were the parents, especially the mothers? Let's put this another way, if you took your 6 year old daughter to the doctor and he asked you to sit outside while she undressed, what would you say?
There is absolutely no need for us to become paranoid about paedophiles nor for women and girls to regard all men with overt suspicion, but there is a very thick line between paranoia and common sense, one that curiously few people nowadays are prepared to acknowledge.