Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Haven’t been blogging much of late. You might have noticed. Due to major engineering works on my train line into London during the whole of my long summer holiday,  I was effectively grounded. They may well have been improving the platform lengths at Waterloo but this caused my cultural growth to be temporarily truncated. I wanted a break and I didn’t particularly want to write so I turned my focus homeward and spent my entire summer decorating, gardening and up-cycling old furniture. I had a thoroughly enjoyable five weeks, rolling out of bed straight into painting clothes, hair unbrushed and just getting on with it. More about that another time – I really must get back to some writing now the darker evenings  are drawing closer – but for now, here’s a post I found yesterday, semi-forgotten and half written in my WordPress draft box. 

And so it came to pass that, with temporary membership in hand, I left Sissinghurst (see previous post) and wended southwards to Lewes. Now Nationally trussed and fully paid up with guide book in glove compartment, I decided to check out Virginia Woolf’s house.

The journey took me through some stunning Sussex countryside and as I bowled happily along the A27, listening to my Rolling Stones compilation with my intended destination only a few miles away, I remembered somewhere else I needed to see first. A couple of years ago I visited Charleston – the beautiful home of Bloomsbury Group artist Vanessa Bell and, not so coincidentally, the sister of Virginia Woolf.  The place was so enchanting that I ran out of time to see nearby Bewick church, the interior of which was decorated by Vanessa, her son Quentin Bell and her lover, Duncan Grant.

I turned off the main road down a very narrow country lane and found the tiny church behind an old stone wall.

There was no one about; I had the place to myself.

From the outside, the building looks pretty much like any other small rural country church, but inside is a wonder to behold.

Not only are the walls adorned with these fantastic murals, the pulpit also retains its original Bloomsbury design. 

Pleased I’d made the minor detour, I sallied forth (I’ve always wanted to say that: it seems to fit in here) to the tiny village of Rodmell, just south of Lewes in East Sussex. It was devilishly difficult to find. Usually there are plenty of brown signs indicating a tourist attraction but there were none.  I’d consulted the map before I’d set off. When I say map, I mean a paper one. I don’t have or want a Sat Nav although I do use Google Maps to help plan a journey beforehand but on the road I stick to my trusted old, much thumbed, AA version that is unravelling from its spring binder. The old-fashioned way worked a treat. At the end of a narrow village lane, encrusted with soil deposited by recent tractor wheels, I discovered Monks House, the 17th century country retreat of Virginia Woolf and her husband, Leonard.

The house is small and unassuming, set in a garden which was a riot of colour when I visited. Bought by Virginia and her husband during the 1920’s as a bolthole from their increasingly busy London life, the couple added to and improved the house over the years until in 1940, they began living there full time after their London apartment was damaged during wartime bombing.

The living room is a mismatch of colour, pattern and styles…but it works.

 

The delicate painting on the backs of these dining chairs is the work of Virginia’s sister, Vanessa Bell.

And I can’t resist a jumble of plates and miscellanea on an old dresser.

Virginia’s bedroom is approached by its own door from the outside – an extension to the original building. One immediately gets the sense of her own private domain. It is a shame that none of the books filling the shelves actually belonged to Virginia – especially as the volunteer guide cheerily informed me that when the Trust took the place over the house was crammed full of the couple’s reading material: it literally was stacked all over the place, their shelves having long since proved inadequate. On closer scrutiny of the books  displayed, I discovered that most of them were titles printed after Virginia’s death. This kind of lack of attention to detail really infuriates me so when, later on, I was wandering around the garden and another kindly volunteer, dressed as who I can only assume was supposed to be Lytton Strachey, asked me if I’d like to listen to his reading of part of one of Virginia’s novels, I declined.

Above – two views of the stunning garden and out to the orchard behind. Beyond this is the river where, on 28 March 1941, Virginia drowned herself by wading out, her pockets filled with pebbles.

This painting of Virginia by her sister, Vanessa Bell, hangs in the living room of the house. I wondered what her state of mind was when it was painted. She has a troubled look doesn’t she? She struggled with depression all her life.

As I left the peaceful village of Rodmell and drove home on a glorious early summer evening, I pondered the link between depression and the highly creative. It seems to haunt so many people who have brought great art (in whatever form) to the world. I found this article which made interesting reading.

There is, it seems, a high price to pay for prolific creativity.

Now back to my furniture…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It was half term a few weeks back. The SSF was away (on some sort of endurance test to northern climes, as it turned out) and I had unmitigated freedom to contend with. On a whim, I set about redecorating the kitchen. I like painting and I like orderliness. I was orderly. I was methodical. I wrapped my brushes in cling film every evening. Things were going surprisingly well until, after flicking through a few home design magazines, I had the brilliant notion of a ‘feature wall.’ I tried a few test pots out on designated wall, creating a Kandinsky-ish effect. The results were hideous. None of the shades I had chosen remotely resembled those advertised. This spontaneous need for colour injection had slowed my progress. Hastily I covered the mess with a calming neutral and decided an outing was required.

I have a list of Places-I’ve-Been-Meaning-To-Visit. Checking through this by now extensive directory, the thought occurred that several sites I had highlighted belong to the National Trust. So, quicker than you could spit at the mention of Michael Gove, our new Environment Secretary (latterly the destroyer of our education system as we knew it), I performed a complete moral U-turn and decided to sign up for membership. I can’t believe I’m even admitting this, so critical of this institution have I been in the past. And still am and probably still will be.

It didn’t start well.

To explain fully the signing up scenario I’ll have to confess to a recent personal event. I had a birthday. A fairly monumental one as it happens but one that comes with a few welcome perks such as free prescriptions and eye tests, a national rail card and reduced price entry to practically everywhere. Everywhere it would seem, except the National Trust.

After a lengthy drive eastwards to deepest Kent one morning, I arrived at my first planned property intending to join up there and then. However, wielding my driver’s licence as proof of age cut no ice with Miss Twinset who filled in my particulars. She very sweetly and ever so slightly smugly told me that to qualify for a Trust discount one has to have been a member previously for five consecutive years.

Unusually I held my tongue, bit my lip and whatever else most people do in situations such as this while thinking that with age must come acceptance. I imagine if I’d have had a membership of anywhere for five consecutive years then the chances are I’d have done everything on offer pretty much to death anyway: what would be the point of a monetary enticement?

I kept quiet. The new old me signed up meekly and, clutching my temporary pass in my gnarled old hand, I picked up a welcome pack which, I was horrified to discover, included an emblematic sticker for my car. I had now well and truly joined the ranks of those who frequent gift shops to buy local jam and tins of themed biscuits.

I had arrived at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, former home of poet and writer Vita Sackville-West and her diplomat and author husband, Harold Nicholson. The couple bought the place in 1930 and set about making a home for their family. Vita developed her love of gardening here and took delight in planting, designing and experimenting. She lived a fairly wild existence, had many liaisons with other women and a decade long affair with Virginia Woolf but always remained married to Harold.

 

 

When she died in 1962, Harold decided that her legacy should be preserved for us all to enjoy and left the place in the hands of the National Trust. I have to say, they’ve done a good job. The place is beautiful. It helped that the sun was shining and the day warm, but I spent two or three hours just wandering around the gardens and taking the long walk around the lake.

I even had time for a quick lunch in the ubiquitous cafe before heading off to the next place on my list. But that’ll have to wait for another day. This membership thing may well catch on.

 

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I went to Woking recently. It’s not far by car and I’d read that there was a Henry Moore exhibition showing there. Now, Woking isn’t a place one immediately associates with culture – it has a mediocre shopping mall, expensive parking and a horribly stressful one-way system currently exacerbated  by complicated roadworks. There is, however, a decent theatre and cinema complex but you have to wade through a phalanx of overly large folk eating their way through super-sized meals in a ‘food court’ full of fast food outlets. It always strikes me as odd that these bulky types, noshing their way through zillions of calories, tend to favour sports clothing: tracksuits, leggings and t-shirts that must surely contain a Lycra percentage, so tight are they stretched across their ample stomachs. Why is that? I’m fairly certain that the sportswear isn’t fulfilling its intended function.

Sorry, I’m straying off topic.

I was headed for the Lightbox. This is Woking’s arts venue and it occurred to me that I’d been there once before, years ago, when I took Son (aged about twelve) to an exhibition about Surrey during WW2. Why I haven’t been back since is a mystery…the place is a light and lively proactive three story area stuffed full of ever changing exhibitions and workshops for school parties with a very acceptable looking cafe area in the foyer where any suggestion of chips with Lycra is thankfully absent.

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I was amazed that entry to the Henry Moore cost me just £3 – which also allows me entry into any exhibitions at the Lightbox FOR A WHOLE YEAR. While I couldn’t believe this my gob was even more smacked when the young lady behind the till mentioned apologetically that if I lost the entry card she had just given me, I’d have to pay £5 to replace it. This must be the best value exhibition centre IN THE WORLD.

The Henry Moore show ‘Sculpting from Nature’ concentrated on inspiration he drew from his surroundings– studies of shells, feathers and bones. The collection included drawings, maquettes, studio materials and working models plus three or four of his monumental sculptures, all loaned by the Henry Moore Foundation.

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From a very young age, Henry Moore was an avid collector of natural things and at the Lightbox show there is a central cabinet filled with some of his precious finds. It’s easy to spot how these organic shapes – from driftwood and shells to shards of flint – were transformed into his iconic work that is so distinguishable today.

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An informative archive black and white film, playing on a loop looks into the work of one of Britain’s most famous contemporary sculptors and there are shots of Henry walking around his garden at Perry Green – a place I visited several years ago with WF1 and which I think now requires a return.

But my tour of Woking’s Lightbox was far from over, for on the third floor was another fascinating exhibition. The Ingram Collection of Modern British Art was commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the artist John Minton (a new name to me) who was inspired by the British Neo-Romanticism movement of which John Piper and Graham Sutherland were major figureheads. Alongside Minton’s works were those of his contemporaries, John Craxton, Julian Trevelyan and Alan Reynolds, none of which I was familiar. I love discovering new things.

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Two Fishermen, 1949 by John Minton (1917-1957)

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Thames Houseboats, The Weir 1963, by Julian Trevelyan (1910-1988)

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I am With Child, 2008, by John Craxton (1922-2009)

According to Art Fund’s director, Stephen Deuchar, Chris Ingram is one of the most active and thoughtful collectors of modern British art today. Well, I’ll agree with that – I had a bonus hour wandering around a virtually empty gallery, enjoying the work of many painters I’d never heard of. Thanks to Chris Ingram, I say.

And thank you, Lightbox. As I left, I snapped this statue outside the main entrance. It shows author HG Wells, who moved to Woking in 1895 and wrote his most famous novel ‘War of the Worlds’ while living in a house on Maybury Road.

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On the journey home I cogitated over other famous Woking residents and it came to me that the Modfather, Paul Weller, hails from here. If you’re in the dark as to who I’m talking about – remember The Jam from the early eighties? Remember one of their hit singles,  Town Called Malice? Paul Weller wrote that song about Woking, his childhood home.

Just how diverse can one town be?

 

Henry Moore Sculpting from Nature runs until 7 May

Ingram Collection runs until 26 March

Lightbox, Woking.

 

 

 

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How could anyone not like a museum called Geffrye? (Pronounce as Geoffrey or Jeffrey, depending on your spelling preference). I’d never heard of this place until recently whilst trawling my Art Pass guide. (Quite frankly, I’m beginning to think the Art Fund should be paying me commission, the amount of times I mention the organisation favourably on this blog). Situated right by the railway station at Hoxton – an area of London I’d not visited since the early seventies -The Geffrye Museum is now in one of the most sought after postcodes for young moneyed Londoners – especially the ones with the lumberjack shirts and beards, apparently. (I don’t know what constitutes a female hipster but I’m guessing facial hair isn’t a requirement).

Hoxton lies just north-east of the city between Bethnal Green and Shoreditch. In my student days we had to travel to Shoreditch once a week to the college annex which was housed in a building that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Dickens novel. It had one of those cage lifts with the metal fretwork doors. We used to pile into this rickety structure, overload and get it stuck on purpose every Friday just to abbreviate and alleviate the tedium of Mr. Goldstein’s Cosmetic Science classes.

Anyway, back to Geffrye. When I saw that this is a Museum of the Home, I knew that WF1 (Work Friend 1) would be my ideal companion for the day. She likes anything home design related and of course shares the same days off as me. We discovered that it’s easy to get to from Waterloo and arrived as early as our off peak train cards would allow.

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The spacious front lawns at the Geffrye

I picked up a comprehensive guide book which explains that ‘the museum is set in the former almshouses of the Ironmongers’ Company, built in 1714 to provide homes for the elderly poor. They were founded with a bequest made by Sir Robert Geffrye, a wealthy merchant who became Master of the Ironmongers’ Company (one of the London guilds) and Lord Mayor of the City of London.’

The buildings were converted into a museum of furniture and opened in 1914. The surrounding gardens were – and still are – a free space for local people to enjoy.

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Conservatory overlooking the rear gardens

The museum has arranged its collection into a series of living-rooms through the ages, depicting the way the middle classes have lived since 1630. There is plenty for the visitor to read by way of storyboards and there are ‘feeling’ samples of the textiles used in each set which enhances the whole sensory experience. We were very impressed – the curating here has been done with meticulous attention to detail.

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An 1830 drawing room

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An 1870 drawing room

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At home in 1890

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How we lived in 1910

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The height of modern living in 1935

One of the almshouses – Number 14 – has been restored so that visitors to two of the rooms can glimpse life as it would have been in the 1780’s and the 1880’s. A very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide spends around half an hour explaining the history and restoration process which we found fascinating.

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A simply furnished bed-sit, circa 1780

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Same room, updated 100 years to 1880.

With the help of lottery funding and the work of the Geffrye Museum Trust (funded by the government) the resources available here are just wonderful. A full range of educational programmes is offered throughout the year for schools, families, youth groups and adults. WF1 and I visited during the half-term break so it was crowded with children busily finding out about how their ancestors lived. There is a delightful café on site where you have to wait to be seated. While waiting, you stand beside a delicious array of home-made cakes and pastries and when you are finally seated overlooking the gardens and bee hives, a waitress takes your order. I had home-made soup and sour dough while WF1 had a tasty looking sandwich on home-made bread. There is an option to have a full cooked meal with wine…maybe next time.

The gift shop’s not bad either: tasteful merchandise with relevance to home and garden and a good selection of books. Any trashy logo-imprinted tat was thankfully conspicuous by its absence.

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A view through the garden ‘rooms’

Outside, between the museum and the station, the gardens are divided into a series of period garden rooms reflecting the rooms inside. There is a Knot Garden; a Herb Garden, a Town Garden and so on. Going in late October doesn’t show the gardens at their best so WF1 and I have already pledged to return next spring.

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Entry to the museum is free (donations obviously welcome) and there is a charge of £3 for the almshouse tour which must be booked on the day in advance.

What’s not to like? I’d have no qualms about awarding the Geffrye five stars.

 

 

 

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The short half-term break shot past in a flash even though I managed to pretty much fill it up with taking various jaunts to places I’d been meaning to visit. So with the SSF otherwise engaged entertaining antipodean amigos, I took myself off to Hampstead. (As you do).

I had a reason to choose Hampstead for my solitary outing. Two, actually. I’d been scouring my Art Pass guide book for ideas and discovered that there were two properties in Hampstead within a quarter of a mile of each other that sounded well worth a look.

I’d never been to Hampstead – at least I have no memory of ever having visited the place – which is mad really as it’s only a few tube stops northwards from central London. I emerged from the station on one of those crisp autumn days where the skies are forever blue, there’s a healthy nip in the air and the trees are beginning to emulate Joseph’s coat of many colours.

Passing and noting for later a promising looking coffee shop (SSF would be proud) I made my way to my first stop – the house of poet John Keats. Originally known as Wentworth Place, the house was built around 1815. From the outside it looked like one beautifully proportioned villa but the interior was originally divided into two separate homes and it was in one of these that, in 1818, Keats went to lodge with his friend, Charles Brown.

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Most of the rooms in the house are accessible to the visitor and on arrival I was presented with an informative leaflet detailing the route I should take. Each room has plenty of information about the poet printed clearly onto boards.

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The furnishings are sparse but give a flavour of the time. In one of the basement rooms a ten minute video plays on a loop, giving us a brief history of the poet’s life.

To say that Keats had a tragic life would be an understatement. His father died in a riding accident when Keats was eight, his widowed mother quickly married a man who proved completely unsuitable. Keats was sent to a boarding school in Enfield, north London where he stayed until he was fourteen and where he fostered a love of poetry and literature. His mother died of consumption so Keats and his brothers were looked after by their grandparents. Keats left school, took up an apprenticeship as an apothecary surgeon and began to write poetry which provided solace in his unhappy world. Around this time, both his brothers died and Keats went to live with Charles Brown where he met the love of his life, Fanny Brawne, who lived next door. With no family wealth behind him (that he knew about) Keats gave up his medical aspirations to concentrate on poetry and it was while living at Wentworth Place that he produced the abundant volume of work we are familiar with today. With his own health in decline (he too contracted consumption) he died aged twenty-five in Rome where he had gone to recuperate.

The gardens around Wentworth House are modest and well tended and are free for the public to wander in, sit a while and ponder. There is a small gift shop selling poetry books, tasteful cards and soap of a natural quality. Had there not been a noxious smell of evil boiled vegetables emanating from the bowels of the house while I was wandering around, I’d have given Keats’ House full marks.

My visit lasted around an hour and a half after which caffeine was definitely required so I wended back to the coffee shop I’d espied earlier and took my Americano across the road to the Heath and sat by the pond in gorgeous autumnal sunshine, watching the ducks.

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A little way from here, just up the hill and facing the Heath was my next port of call. Number 2, Willow Road is part of a terrace of three Modernist houses designed and built by architect and designer Ernö Goldfinger. He and his family lived at Number 2, the middle house, from 1939 until his death in 1987.

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Goldfinger is remembered for designing residential tower blocks, some of which are now listed buildings but at the time of their construction were controversial. Willow Road is built of concrete with brick facings and just scraped past the fastidious Hampstead planning department, causing outrage amongst the preciously exclusive locals.

Entry into the house is by timed tickets and for only ten people at a time. Thankfully I had had the foresight to book my place before buying coffee so when I returned at my allotted hour, nine other folk were hovering around outside waiting for the off. The National Trust is the custodian of 2 Willow Road and I have to say that this was one of the times that this fusty old institution got it right. It was bequeathed to the Trust by Goldfinger’s children and the furniture, fittings and artwork are all authentic. The house is stuffed full of modern art – Goldfinger was a collector.

Our guide was well informed and interesting. We were ushered into what had been the garage to watch a short video about the life and times of Ernö Goldfinger before entering the downstairs lobby where an extraordinary spiral staircase gave us access to the rest of the house.

Goldfinger also designed furniture – in particular chairs – and there are examples of his work here. The house would have been ultra modern for its time, with interior partition walls that could create different spaces by being pulled back or closed. The kitchen, however, is tiny and one wonders how his poor wife coped to entertain all the friends and celebrities who frequented the place. Everywhere you look there is art by someone notable: Henry Moore…Bridget Riley…Barbara Hepworth. The bookshelves are full of arty books and there are myriad miscellaneous collections on windowsills and tables. I loved it and didn’t know where to start and stop looking. Sadly, photographs of the interior are forbidden so I can’t share this cornucopia with you but if you ever find yourself in Hampstead, make a bee-line for this place – it’s wonderful!

 

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First up, those curious to know the outcome of the wanton littering of my area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with preformed brightly-coloured bovines, here are the details: The first auction to sell off the psychedelic Surrey cows took place last week at Sandown Park. Forty-one of them went – goodness knows where – but a spectacular total of £79,800 was raised. Even by my maths’ appalling standards I make that just under £2000 per cow (or £500 a leg: that’s food for thought…). Many charities will benefit from the sales which can only be a good thing.

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There’s another auction coming up next month at Hampton Court Palace where the aforementioned Peter Blake design will be up for grabs.

 

 

And now (as goes the catchphrase), for something completely different.

The Department of Education, now thankfully without Michael Gove but sadly still lacking anyone who actually has any notion of teaching and learning has dropped the History of Art from the A level syllabus.

What?!!

To study art from ancient civilisations through to the present day is to put some kind of sense and time line into life as we know it today. Art is about expression but it is also provides valuable social documentation. Have we become so superior in this crazed technological world that we think we don’t need to consult the past? As if eradicating this subject isn’t bad enough, there are others that have suffered the same fate: Archaeology. And Creative Writing. And Media Studies. And Humanities. And Home Economics; Economics with Business Studies; Statisitcs; Critical Thinking…and the list* goes on. It might be easier to list the subjects that will still be available.

This of course is the legacy that Gove left after his departure – sadly his presence will be felt for many years to come unless someone with a bit of vision is allowed to take control. Bearing in mind that students now have to remain in education until they are eighteen, what are the majority going to be studying? Where are all these government promised apprenticeship opportunities that will lead to real jobs? Where is the enhanced programme of vocational studies needed to spur on the creators and innovators of the future? Where are those with practical ability going to hone their skills? Certainly not at Mrs May’s proposed grammar schools.

By expecting that every student will end up at university is madness. Yes, everyone has a right to the same opportunities but if those opportunities are so narrow, so academically focussed then we are not catering to the wider skill base our country will desperately need in the future because a slim majority voted to go it alone.

Some of the students I support struggle big-time with academic subjects. With the best will in the world they will not achieve decent grades. They are being forced to take exams at fifteen/sixteen that will propel them towards A levels when something more appropriate to their needs should be readily available. Alternative programmes are few and far between because without academic recognition, schools are deemed to have failed.

It’s going to be a dismal future world without craftsmen and women, without artisans and trades. I don’t see how it’s going to work. Can anyone out there enlighten me?

*Read the full list of culled subjects here.

 

 

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I had a free day the other week – nothing planned, the weather was good and I felt like an outing, so I trawled through my Art Pass Guide to find somewhere to go that wasn’t too far away. It didn’t take long for the name Stanley Spencer to jump out. I didn’t know much about him other than he was an artist (slightly eccentric) who’d  had something to do with First World War paintings and who, according to family folklore, had taken tea with Dad’s artist cousin Walter Steggles on numerous occasions. It was time to check him out.

There is now a gallery dedicated to the man in his home town of Cookham in Berkshire so I consulted the map, checked the easiest route – there seemed to be several – and committed it to memory. I don’t have, nor do I want, a Sat Nav. While I know they can be an invaluable piece of kit, they are only as good as the programmer. They can default to the wrong place as we have discovered to our fury while touring in France and then Talking Woman gets increasingly agitated if you manoeuvre an unscheduled U-turn. So armed with a bottle of water, the map and my Art Pass, I set off.

Fortunately my sense of direction is reasonably accurate because when I arrived at Maidenhead, the nearest large town to Cookham, the lack of road signage is unbelievable. In my mind’s eye I had pictured Maidenhead as a leafy, broad-avenued sort of a place, stuffed full of expensive designer shops and delicatessens with willows bending towards the Thames. Possibly people in punts. In reality it is more like how I had imagined Basingstoke to be.

After an endless succession of round-a-bouts with choices to either go west for Reading or east for Slough (quelle horreur!) I ended up in a one-way system enjoying the sights of the multiplex cinema and a concrete shopping centre before thankfully peeling off through a residential area (still no signage) and ending up on the Cookham Road.

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Cookham, by contrast, is a delight. Not quite a town but too large for a village, Cookham sits sleepily beside the river Thames.

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There’s a church, a quaint little garage and the house in the high street where Spencer was born in 1891.

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Just along from this is the tiny converted Methodist Chapel which now holds a permanent exhibition of Spencer’s paintings. It is packed full of them but manages to maintain an effective layout with plenty of information. Upstairs on the mezzanine you can watch a video of his life and works which I thought I’d dip into but I ended up watching it all, it was so interesting.

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Spencer was quite a character around Cookham. He’d often paint en plein air, lugging his artist’s materials around in his daughter’s old pram. Many of his paintings depict ordinary life around the town and he included actual residents – not always with permission!

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Domestic Scenes: At the Chest of Drawers, 1936

The exhibition I saw concentrated on his paintings of the natural world – I liked these – they are striking yet have a naïve quality. His colours are vibrant.

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View from Cookham Bridge, 1936

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Rock Roses, Old Lodge, Taplow, 1957

He was obsessed with gardens and what went on behind walls and hedges as well as using religious motifs and themes throughout his work. He married an artist, Hilda Carline, and they had two daughters. I was interested to see that one of his girls, Unity, has written an autobiography, providing an insight to living with this man but also who had had a very turbulent and artistic life of her own. Before I knew it, I’d spent two thoroughly enjoyable hours in this tiny space, studying the paintings and dipping into the freely available archive material. It was fascinating. I also discovered that the gallery opened in 1962 and was refurbished in 2007 through donations and a Heritage Lottery Fund grant which makes me feel that my purchasing of a weekly lottery ticket isn’t entirely wasted. The gallery is now a charitable trust, staffed by very knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers – I’d definitely recommend a visit and will more than likely return as long as I remember to avoid Maidenhead.

While at the gallery I learned that Spencer had been commissioned to create a series of murals at the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burgclere, Hampshire and I was keen to visit.  Spencer had enlisted in the Medical Corps during the First World War and these murals depict personal experiences of everyday life both in hospital and on the front line. The work, inspired by Giotto’s Arena Chapel in Padua, took him almost six years to complete.

Now, you may remember that my last post covering the Silk Mill outing took the SSF and me into deepest Hampshire, so it seemed the ideal opportunity to call in to Sandham on the way home. Which is what we did: the SSF is very accommodating. So after the Mill, we hunted down this tiny chapel, which wasn’t easy due once again to poor signage. Anyway, we eventually found the place opposite a reasonable looking pub where we stopped for a sandwich before we wandered into the chapel grounds.

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Sandham is run by the National Trust. Their properties have a formulaic uniformity to them. The volunteers are of a type. The gift shops have a certain layout and although there are often local items available (pots of jam or honey, usually), once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. They all sell tartan picnic blankets and small useless wicker hampers emblazoned with the Trust logo. They sell erasers in the shape of green welly boots. You get the picture. Unless you are a Trust Member (I am not), entry fees are expensive. Some are extortionate. Sandham falls into the latter. Occasionally my wonderful Art Pass will cover a Trust property. I always proffer my card to the volunteer cashier (sometimes I’m lucky) but usually it is regarded with snooty disdain and I’m offered the obvious alternative with a smugness that is definitely a Trust requirement – signing up there and then to become a Member. No thanks, I always say, wanting to add that I have no desire to add to their coffers which in turn allows them to turn our beautiful old heritage homes into themed opportunities with borrowed furniture of the time, contract carpeting and a re-enactor in every room. No thanks, if it’s all the same. I’m stared at as if I’ve just insulted their religion, which in a way, I suppose I have. Grudgingly I shelled out my £10 entry fee while being thankful that SSF got in for nothing because she is a member (and I don’t hold this against her. Each to their own).

A small room sporting story boards gives the visitor some brief information about the commissioner and Spencer’s work before you can then watch a short video doing much the same. Then you can get into the chapel itself which, I have to say, does provide more than a gasp factor. The place is naturally lit, the light being constantly regulated by a volunteer opening and closing blinds all day. The art work is truly amazing – the detail and extent of the work is breath-taking. These are all war paintings but not of suffering particularly, but of hope. Spencer apparently felt that toil would move him closer to God, something he strived to do all his life.

Our visit to Sandham probably lasted for a maximum of forty minutes and while I’m delighted to have seen these murals, £10 is still far too expensive. To cap it all, I was warned by Light Regulating Woman not to take photographs, so if you’d like to get an idea of Spencer’s vision, click here for a link to an article in Apollo Magazine.

Ah well, the Cookham Gallery was completely free to me, an Art Fund Member. Guess you can’t win ‘em all!

Incidentally, the photos in this post of Spencer’s paintings have been scanned in from the very excellent guide book I purchased from the gallery in Cookham for the very reasonable sum of £5.

 

 

 

 

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