Van Gogh & Britain: the artist & the demimonde

Saffron Smith

Van Gogh & Britain: the artist & the demimonde

Freelance writer and independent escort, Saffron Smith, visits the Van Gogh and Britain exhibition and makes an unexpected discovery into the artist’s relationship with the demimonde.

As surely as a tourist board must rebrand a coastal road to renew its appeal to the international traveller, so too must a gallery struggle to make firm the tenuous links between an artist’s œuvre and the exhibiting country. And so it goes with this exhibition of van Gogh’s work at the Tate Britain; the largest display of his work in the UK for nearly a decade. From the moment an exhibition guide is proffered by a helpful member of gallery staff, the visitor is bombarded by a determined national self-aggrandisement project. Vincent van Gogh lived in Britain for “several crucial years,” he fell in love with British culture, he just loved to walk through London, if he’d’ve lived today, his favourite TV show would’ve been Eastenders, swiftly followed by the Great British Bake Off. (Ok, the last statement is somewhat of an exaggeration; everyone knows it would’ve been Embarrassing Bodies. Obvi.)


Van Gogh arrived in the UK at the age of 20 and spent barely three years here; four years before he became an artist and several more before he created his most famous works. Yet whilst the connection between Britain and van Gogh’s works feels laboured – almost painfully embarrassingly so – there’s no escaping the brilliance of this exhibition. With major draws like the iconic Sunflowers, Shoes and Starry Night Over the Rhône, and a collection of other gems including The Prison Courtyard and Hospital at Saint-Rémy, the artificial way in which they are strung together soon evaporates into the equivalent of background noise. So too does the way in which the exhibition is filled with the work of other artists in a manner redolent of wheat husk in cheap sausages. As for the hoardes of visitors and the impatient wait to see van Gogh’s paintings behind people taking pictures of them on their smartphones? Well, that’s another story.


As an independent escort in London, one of the things which struck me most about the exhibition was this quote by van Gogh alluding to a relationship he struck up with a sex worker and the gallery’s decision to touch upon it – however obliquely. 

“I met a pregnant woman…who roamed the streets in winter – who had to earn her bread, you can imagine how. I took that woman as a model and worked with her the whole winter.”

— Vincent van Gogh, 1882

The subject of the quote was a woman called Sien Hoornik. Originally a seamstress and cleaner, and latterly a sex worker, Sien was pregnant and had a young child when she began modelling for van Gogh in 1881. They subsequently began living together in what was to be van Gogh’s only domestic relationship; a relationship which met with the disapproval of his friends and family. Some of van Gogh’s financial support was cut off whilst the rest was threatened. After around two years together van Gogh left Sien, writing in a letter to his brother that:

“I knew from the outset that her character is a ruined character, but I had hopes of her finding her feet and now, precisely when I don’t see her any more and think about the things I saw in her, I increasingly come to realize that she was already too far gone to find her feet.”

Sien later married in 1901 but then in 1904, 14 years after van Gogh’s suicide, she threw herself into the Schelde river and drowned. What was the story of their relationship? What were social mores like at the time they were together? What were they like as individuals and as a couple? Was van Gogh the archetypal rescuer? Was he whimsical and callous? This exhibition left me with more questions about van Gogh than I had expected – none of them about his art.

Van Gogh and Britain is on at the Tate Britain until 11 August 2019

Tate Britain, Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG (Nearest tube: Pimlico)

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“Why do you want this job?” 5 reasons why I love being a companion

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Saffron Smith

"Why do you want this job?" 5 reasons why I love being a companion

Picture the situation: you’ve seen an advert for your dream job, you’ve submitted an application for it, got through sifting, completed the competency assessment and passed, and now you’re through to interview. All that remains is for you to do some serious prep for it. The job? To be a luxury companion. The prep? That old chestnut of an interview question: “Why did you apply for this job?”. In other words, “Tell us why you love this work.”

This cheesy introduction to my first ever blog post might sound a little contrived (mostly because it is) but it’s a question I’m often asked: “Why do you like being a companion?” I’m also asked other questions but this blog word count has a limit, as does your patience, I’m sure.

I find this question interesting; not just because I’m asked it so often as to be constantly reflective about this pretty major life choice of mine but because it provides interesting insights into the motivations for asking this question in the first place. Sorry to disappoint you, feminazis, but many clients I meet are ethical consumers who responsibly seek reassurance that you’re a provider through choice and operating out of free will. Many more want to know that you enjoy your work and that you’re going to provide an authentic and exciting experience. A few others have a neutral curiosity and natural inquisitiveness that seeks understanding of a world they see from another side.

It was only last year that I became a companion and I absolutely love it – to almost inexpressible proportions – and here are just five of the reasons why:

1. Intimacy

As a lover, I am sensual and earthy; and as a human, I am rooted to the present and enjoy all the sensorial experiences that this world of ours has to offer. For me, the magic of togetherness exists in the love bubbles created where time is suspended and the outside world vanishes from view.

I love the excitement of discovering new bodies and the intimacy of becoming more familiar with others. I love exploring the contours and terrain of the male form as well as the myriad ways of giving, receiving and showing pleasure. I love the power and poetry of the male orgasm and of being the person to create and receive it (inside a condom, I hasten to add). 

2. Personalities

The vast majority of the gentlemen I meet are wealthy, successful professionals which I imagine may be an industry standard for high end companions. But aside from this usual commonality, I meet a diverse range of gentlemen from diverse backgrounds; whether that’s in terms of profession, nationality, upbringing, age or personality. Each person I meet provides a window onto a different world with colourful stories to recount and fascinating life lessons to impart and every connection I make has its own unique dynamic.

3. The experiences

As a luxury companion, there is zero doubt that I inhabit a very fortunate sector of the industry. Despite being new to this profession, I am lucky to have been treated to lavish experiences: fine dining, West End plays and musicals, exclusive bars and spa days. Without wishing to induce nausea in anyone reading this, I do consider myself to be exceptionally fortunate and am very grateful for these generous displays of affection. I love the amount of thought and effort that my clients have invested into making our dates as perfect as possible and, even more than this, I am thankful for the opportunity to be enriched by experiencing new and different things.

4. The empowerment

When your existence is financially precarious, when you have to choose between essential needs that you’re able to pay for and when you can’t plan for more than your immediate future, life can feel exceptionally limited. Whilst I have enjoyed a professionally successful career, the vocation I have pursued has not been well paid. What being a high class escort has done for me is supplement my income and, in turn, provide me with financial liberation, independence and dignity. I can’t even begin to stress the power of this, the impact it’s had on my life and my gratitude for it.

Besides the material reward that this work brings, it has also liberated me from the constraints of societal conventions and, since becoming a GFE escort, I feel exponentially more sexually empowered. I understand more about human psychology. Thanks to the advice of other independent escorts, I feel greater confidence about asserting myself and setting my boundaries. I have higher expectations about conduct and behaviour. I walk with dignity of carriage through hotel lobbies even when I don’t know where the elevators are.

                                         luxury provider

5. Every day is a school day

I love how life as a luxury companion means that I am always learning new things: about others, about myself, about the world. Being an upscale companion is an incredibly privileged job and not just for the obvious reasons that come to mind. Whether it’s having real life exposure to people who practise growth mindsets, learning new words in other languages or hearing about exciting travel and fitness adventures, I am constantly being inspired, having my mind enriched and experiencing the sensation of having my internal horizons expanded.

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Elite Luxury Middle Eastern GFE Escort in London

Saffron Smith