‘George Orwell, known chiefly as a competent journalist who had had his larynx weakened by a Spanish bullet, sometimes appeared in the Wheatsheaf or the Fitzroy Tavern to down a silent half. He stood on the edge of a company of film workers one evening to listen distractedly to Gilbert Wood. […] Wood specialised in daubing pictures to deck film interiors. He was terrified by even the mention of rats and, inevitably in his presence, rats would sooner or later gnaw into the conversation. He had been put to work on the décor of a film called Death of a Rat and wondered if he dared resign. I believe that Orwell picked up the idea of Winston Smith’s phobia from Gilbert Wood. When, much later, I told Wood that I had eaten stewed rat, he fainted.’
(From Little Wilson and Big God, 1987)
This painting is signed by Gilbert Wood and probably dates from the 1940s, when Burgess spent some time in London on his leaves from the Army on the fringes of a literary circle that included Orwell, Julian Maclaren-Ross and Dylan Thomas.