Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Here as promised are details of the artworks featured in my last post. Because I drifted around snapping only the pieces that immediately appealed to me without taking much notice at the time  of pricing, this year’s selection has turned out to be rather over the top from a financial point of view.  Apart from a couple. But there is art available at the Royal Academy that wouldn’t break the bank…so if you get the chance to see for yourself, then I’d recommend getting a ticket.

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“ALL THE FISH IN THE SEA” by David Mach, RA £56,000

 

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“MIGRATION” by Cathy de Monchaux £35,000

 

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“GOLDENGROVE” by Christopher le Brun £168,000

 

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“SATCHEL” and “LIBERTY BODICE” by Valerie Bradbury £500 each

 

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“VENICE TRIPTYCH” by Ken Howard RA £20,000

 

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“SPRING GARDEN, UNDER FROST” by Frederick Cuming RA £25,000

 

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“SNOW IN HYDE PARK” By Ken Howard RA £38,000

 

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“AVOCADO COCONUT EGG (ACE) by El Anatsui Hon RA Price on application!

 

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“KOZANJI: WINTER FIRE” by Ian MacKenzie Smith £4,000

Now, since I went to the exhibition and made my selection and with the Olympics about to burst forth, I settled down the other night and watched an interesting documentary about Tom Daley, Britain’s high-diving medal hope. When I next looked at that last painting, above, all I can see now are a pair of blue Speedo’s and some yellow legs behind a wafting scarlet scarf. Funny how perceptions can be changed, isn’t it?

Oh, and if I were to make a choice and money was no object, then from the above selection I’d probably go for Frederick Cuming’s ‘Spring Garden, Under Frost.’ (I like the colours which remind me slightly of a Patrick Procktor painting a friend once owned).  I discounted the bottle top wall-hanging on account of its size and also because I imagine it would need dusting. Ever practical when it comes to housework avoidance, you see!

The Summer Exhibition  runs until 21 August. Galleries open at 10.00am until 6.00pm, late evenings till 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

 

 

 

 

 

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And with ever increasing speed, so the years whizz around. It certainly doesn’t feel like twelve months ago that I visited the Royal Academy in London’s Piccadilly for its annual Summer Exhibition. I returned this week to check out this year’s selection.

As I explained in my post last year, the Summer Exhibition is the largest open submission exhibition in the world and provides a platform for both well-known and emerging artists to display and sell their work. The work of the hopeful is put through an arduous submission process, the final say being had by a select panel of established Royal Academicians.

I arrived at my allotted time – 1.30pm – and discovered that this was an excellent time to have chosen. The gallery wasn’t crowded! I was able to move easily around the rooms, take pictures without folk getting in the way (or me getting in the way of them), and generally have a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I do, of course, start backwards. I traversed the thirteen rooms in an anti-clockwise manner and I think a few others were doing the same. Perhaps we were all left-handers, I don’t know, but there was no sense of a shuffling queue which so often happens at big events when you are shepherded along in a continuous and aggravated line.

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Look! Whoopee! A relatively empty gallery!

So once again, I’ve taken snaps of artworks that caught my eye for one reason or another. Most of the exhibits are for sale. I’ll leave the prices and artist’s names out of the description and leave you guessing. See if you can pick out the most and least expensive. As last year, I’ll reveal the answers in my next post.

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I thought this display of vase-shaped sculptures was rather fun – set against a mirrored background they have been created using foam and coloured pins.

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This next work has been made using copper wire, bandages, silk and pigment. Set in a black frame it’s about ten feet wide and perhaps eighteen inches high. It is very striking and looks somehow ancient.

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I’m not really sure what drew me to this oil on canvas other than the size – it’s enormous, commanding a central position in gallery six. I like the depth and choice of colours.

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These two works are independent of each other but obviously by the same artist. Worked in corroded pewter, I wondered why these specific items had been chosen.

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This oil triptych caught my eye as it depicts a view I know well.  I like the way the panels are disjointed; how they don’t quite match up.

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Another oil painting. The colours of a suburban frosty morning appealed for some reason. Odd really, because in reality I don’t like being cold and much prefer the countryside.

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How very odd – another cold scene – again in oil and depicting Hyde Park. Definitely a Christmas card in the making…

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This was the most astonishing exhibit I saw. Hung in the small, dimly lit number two gallery this had several people gasping.  Close-ups below (look closely!) will reveal that this has been created using all sorts of different bottle tops and wire closures from everyday products. Amazing.  It puts me in mind of a ceremonial tribal cloak.

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You can see in these details how painstaking the making of this piece must have been.

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This is a watercolour. There’s something about this that I find restful although the colours used would probably suggest otherwise.

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And lastly, here is the eye-catching piece that greets the visitor on arrival through the gates of Burlington House on Piccadilly. Entitled ‘Spyre’ it is a 16 metre tall Cor-Ten steel kinetic sculpture by Ron Arad who is a Royal Academician architect, designer and sculptor. It moves slowly round, its segments also twisting and turning at varying speeds. On the head there is an ‘eye’ – which is a camera, recording whatever it sees in the courtyard below. This is then beamed onto the huge screen hung behind it on the front of the building. Visitors are filmed entering and walking across the courtyard thereby becoming part of the artwork. If people should object to this, they are guided around the perimeter, out of range of the Spyre’s eye. It’s actually quite fascinating to watch and reminded me of a charmed snake.

So there we have it: this year’s Summer Exhibition which runs until 21 August. Worth a look, definitely. Galleries open at 10.00am until 6.00pm, late evenings till 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

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I’m not a great one for self promotion (it’s a terribly British affliction), but I can, nevertheless, unashamedly do it on behalf of others, especially if those others are family. Long standing readers of this blog may recall my arty niece’s Christmas card range. Well, said creative niece, Hattie, and her not much less creative Mama have recently joined forces to produce a range of crafts and illustrations worthy of any bijou home interiors boutique.

A few weeks ago I accompanied my sister on a fabric buying foray. We went to her local town where there is a wonderful arts and crafts shop, stuffed full of everything you could ever need if you are wont to a bit of crafting. Or knitting. Or quilting. Sis has been an avid quilter for many years now – I have some intricate cushion covers to prove it – and now she’s branching out into making all sorts of things – spectacle cases, iPad covers, cosmetic purses to name just a few. We spent a fascinating half hour or so choosing pretty printed cottons and wadding, buying lengths of cloth called fat quarters (a quilting technical term, apparently. You learn something every day, don’t you?). Armed with a weighty bagful, Sis set to and began producing her merchandise, sitting in her kitchen with her trusty sewing machine and copious cups of coffee.

Yesterday she and Hattie took their first leap into the Craft Fair market to test the water. I popped along to lend support and see what they have been up to.

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image These baby padders are adorable…shame I don’t know any babies that could benefit.
image Hattie’s nursery illustrations

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Hattie has sold her own exclusive designs online for a while now. She produces cards for all occasions, nursery illustrations and sells items such as mugs, spectacle cases and cushion covers printed with her own inimitable style. She is currently working on a fabric range as well as accepting commissions for book illustrations. You can view her merchandise here or check out her website here. She’s a busy bunny!

Their collaboration has spawned “House of Hyder” which has its own  online shop over at Etsy where you can see samples of the whole range. Check out the logo and business cards – designed in house, of course.

 

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Half term last week and a chance to catch up with a few things such as visiting an exhibition I’ve been meaning to see for a while. Performing Sculpture at Tate Modern is a look at the work of the American Alexander Calder (1898-1976), widely recognised as the creator of the ‘mobile’ as we know it today. I had an added reason to be curious – Calder is the great grand Uncle of fellow blogger, Robin Cochran.

Now, although the route along the Thames path from Waterloo to Tate Modern is one of my favourite walks, I have to admit to Tate Modern being my least preferred London art gallery. Not because of the work it displays but because it’s always far too busy (alright, I know that’s a good thing) and the coffee shops are a disgrace. The escalators are confusing because they traverse two floors at a time so ending up where you actually want to go is a bit of a lottery. However, the bookshop is fantastic and there is always something interesting going on once you work out the geography. And to be fair, the whole place is having a makeover at the moment which will, by June of this year, include more space and more art: so that’s a good thing too.

Performing Sculpture is on the third floor and once inside the individual gallery, the crowds have dispersed so viewing is a little more comfortable and conducive. We are immediately introduced to Calder’s wire sculptures and the first impression is one of fun. Apparently in 1926 he began constructing his own miniature circus performers using wire, cork and buttons.

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Simple little dog created from wire, wood and a clothes peg. Fun and effective

He would stage live shows for a small audience of esteemed friends which included Jean Cocteau, Joan Miro and Piet Mondrian. I managed to snap a couple of examples before politely being told to refrain from photography which surprised me as usually at Tate Mod they don’t mind.

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Wire sculpture of tennis player, Helen Wills.

 

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Tumblers or acrobats. I liked how this wire sculpture cast shadows on the white wall.

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Fish tank. This was my favourite. Looks so simple but a great idea for the art room, maybe?

 

It was Mondrian who inspired Calder to experiment with moving shapes after Calder saw some coloured cardboard rectangles attached to the wall in Mondrian’s studio. The artist was using them as compositional aids but Calder thought it would be interesting to make them move (Mondrian didn’t share his enthusiasm!) so he began experimenting with shapes and wire, balance and suspension. His metal sculptures are wired together with the precision of an engineer, creating equilibrium and movement. Some parts of one sculpture will move independently from its main body which provides fascination for the viewer. The mobiles float ethereally in the white painted gallery under their own steam, the power of air flow caused by human movement around the exhibits. Each piece is so delicate now that any enforced movement – by blowing on them for instance, is forbidden.

To get an idea of the type of mobiles on display, and because I’m nothing if not law-abiding (I put my camera away before getting to the mobiles gallery), here is a video I discovered on good old You Tube from a Christie’s catalogue a few years ago. Enjoy!

And finally, as I had to refrain from taking pictures, this last one is taken from the mini guide that the Tate provides with your ticket. (Half price, by the way, with the National Art Pass. Marvellous).

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Black Widow

Called Black Widow it is the last exhibit in the show and hangs forlornly, its pieces moving at odds with each other. I thought this was a rather gloomy end to an otherwise weirdly interesting exhibition that could fire up the creativity for anyone let loose with some wire, flat metal plates and some spray paint. I can see much mileage in these ideas in a school art room because the construction of them would involve a bit of physics – and that would provide a perfect opportunity for cross-curricular activities as well as proving to our short-sighted Department of Education that the recent down-grading of Design and Technology subjects for GCSE is just downright wrong. Rant over. (For now).

 

 

 

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If, as a child, I wasn’t roaming around outside I’d be endlessly inventing stories and scribbling them down in my red Silvine notebooks bought from Woolworths or I’d be drawing or painting. Dad would wander past, look over my shoulder and tell me that I must take after his cousin, Wally.

Cousin Wally was a couple of decades older than my father: they were never close and we children never met him but Dad would often remark on Wally’s talent.

Well, it turns out that Cousin Wally (Walter Steggles 1908-1997) had considerable talent. Prolific talent which culminated in him having work exhibited at the 1936 Venice Biennale alongside such luminaries as Duncan Grant and Barbara Hepworth. He and his younger brother Harold belonged to the East London Art Club, whose artists collectively became known as the East London Group.

Talk about hiding one’s familial light under the proverbial bushel.

In the last couple of years the little known or even recognised East London Group have had something of a renaissance – interest within the indiscernible world of art dealing has increased, helped along by David Buckman’s publication of a very comprehensive history of the group, ‘From Bow to Biennale.’ This fairly weighty tome is based on correspondence and interviews with the last, now deceased, (Wally was the last surviving member) Group members as well as primary and secondary archival research.

Both Wally and Harold have extensive biographies along with colour reproductions of their work.

Harold Steggles (1911-1971) achieved some commercial success by designing posters for the Shell Petroleum Company but it seems that his older brother was the more artistically driven of the two. However, both brothers had work displayed at the Lefevre Gallery in London.

Wally painted all his life – he never married and lived mostly with his parents who moved around quite a bit. When he lived in Cookham he became acquainted with the artist Stanley Spencer and the two would visit each other’s studios. His paintings reflect areas of the country he knew – landscapes of East Anglia and Wiltshire as well as industrial scenes of East London.

The canal, Mile End by Walter Steggles

The canal, Mile End by Walter Steggles

It is the latter which most appeal to me and I was fascinated to learn that as Wally became interested in photography he would take his photos, “square” them up into grid formation and then use them to create a painting.

Without wanting to recount Wally’s life story here it’s important to mention that his passion and undoubted ability for art grew from attending evening classes in Bow, East London as a very young man. These classes were taken by one John Cooper who inspired Wally and who invited prominent figures from the art world to come and talk to his pupils. One of these visiting artists, Walter Sickert, left a lasting impression on Wally:

“Sickert’s advice has been constantly with me. I did not, however, wish to be an obvious follower as a number of artists have.”

So when I saw that the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester was holding an exhibition of Walter Sickert’s work I suggested that we take a look. Once we’d secured a parking space – which isn’t easy in Chichester but worth persevering  – we found the gallery pleasantly uncrowded. The current Sickert exhibition concentrates on the artist’s time in Dieppe, where he lived for a number of years. Often lauded as the English Impressionist, Sickert (1860-1942) was inspired by Monet and Pissarro and his work definitely reflects their influence although his method of sketching his subjects first and then work on his paintings back in his studio is much removed from the French Impressionists who worked ‘en plein air.’ I was intrigued to see that Sickert used the grid method to translate his drawings to the canvas and wondered if this was where Wally got the idea from for his photographs.

 

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Shop in Dieppe by Walter Sickert

All in all, I’m sorry to report that we were underwhelmed by this particular collection. Sickert’s paintings have a flat, unfinished quality to them. I found it difficult to pick out any one painting that had the wow factor although this one appealed because, I think, of its storytelling potential.

It’s not just the tenuous family link that creates my bias towards Wally’s pictures – his colours are vibrant and I prefer his style. His paintings are now fetching respectable sums at auction. According to family folklore, when Wally’s Uncle Henry died and his wife moved home, she threw out one of Wally’s paintings: it wasn’t to her taste, apparently. That woman was my grandmother.

Families, eh? So near yet so far…

This post forms the second part of a challenge thrown down by Sherri, over at her Summerhouse.  As Sherri herself has already changed the rules of the challenge which originally was to post five pictures and five stories on consecutive days (ha! not a chance!), I shall be taking a more relaxed attitude towards the rules myself. I’m supposed to nominate someone to take up the challenge after each of my next five posts but I’m not going to do that. Suffice to say, if you feel the urge to challenge yourself to five pictures/five stories (fact or fiction) then please feel free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There are some things in this country that are quintessentially British and come around on the annual calendar with seemingly ever increasing speed – The Royal Garden Parties, for instance, Wimbledon lawn tennis and the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy.

The latter opened for this summer season last week, so on Sunday we toddled off to London to take a look. Arriving at Burlington House in Piccadilly, flags heralded the celebrated event. The first exhibit can be seen through the open gates to the courtyard. A massive steel structure consisting of different sized tetrahedrons welded together, this sculpture by Conrad Shawcross is entitled “The Dappled Light of the Sun,” which is all very well but as we wandered underneath this colossal skeleton on an overcast morning, the artist’s intention I feel was all but lost.

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Burlington House, Piccadilly

The Summer Exhibition is the largest open submission exhibition in the world and has been staged by the Royal Academy every year since 1769 without interruption. It provides an unrivalled platform for established and emerging artists to display and sell their work. The Academy takes a commission from every work sold and this, together with ticket sales for the event, go towards funding post-graduates at the RA Schools.

The RA Schools was founded in 1769, and remains independent. This enables the Schools to offer the only three-year postgraduate programme in Europe. The pluralisation comes about because when it was first founded, students were required to master a number of different artistic elements in a particular order. Each element was known as a separate ‘School’. Today The RA is more flexible in its expectation but the original name has stuck.

There are around one thousand pieces on display, each having been through an arduous selection procedure, the first of which is done digitally on-line. If the artist is fortunate enough to go through to the next round, their artwork is put before a selection panel consisting of Royal Academicians.

Art work is priced from £100 to nearly £100,000 – and many of the exhibits were already sporting a red dot, signifying its ‘sold’ status. I loved this tongue-in-cheek work by Cornelia Parker – and the fact that it had got through the selection process. Just shows that artists have a sense of humour. I wonder who bought it though.

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Stolen Thunder III

Upon entry you get given a little ‘List of Works’ handbook containing the artists’ names, titles and prices of their work. I thought it would be entertaining to waft around, pick out the pieces I liked and check the provenance afterwards. Interestingly, most of the paintings I picked were by known contemporary artists which probably says more about me than the state of British modern art but there you go.

So here are a few of my chosen miscellany, sporting titles only. See if you can pick out the most and least expensive of my selection.

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Colony – January

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The old house dreams it is still there

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Mississippi River Blues

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Flower Window

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Afternoon Skaters

The show this year was curated by Michael Craig-Martin, a Royal Academician. His vision to paint the walls of one of the largest rooms a bright pink may shock some but I think it brought the hung paintings alive and complemented the gilding on the ceiling, showing off the classical architecture of this building in an innovative way. The Central Hall was also painted in a vivid peacock turquoise which looked opulent and fantastic.

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Wonderful pink walls. Those neon bubbles are by Michael Landy and are one of the few items not for sale.

In previous years the exhibits have been crowded together, almost jostling for position creating a chaotic, busy sensation. This year the whole effect is of calm but stylish order and while ideally I’d like the gallery to myself, by going early we avoided the crowds.

The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy runs until the 16 August and is open every day from 10am till 6pm.

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When I started my first school, at the age of five, Dad seemed very excited to hear that I had been placed in “Churchill” – one of  four houses our tiny school was divided into for Sport’s Day events or collecting merit points. The houses were each designated a colour and I was to wear blue webbing bands which, because blue was – and still is – my favourite colour,  pleased me more than its name which at that time held little significance.

The houses were named after famous local residents – and Winston Churchill had his country retreat less than five miles away. As children we drove past the place often; were taken there for outings; were told stories of a great man who had lived there.

During the war Dad was a despatch rider for the Royal Signals. He would regularly make trips to Chartwell to deliver documents or papers and of course always held Winston in very high esteem. He got to know that part of the countryside pretty well and it is probably part of the reason  he decided to buy the virtually derelict house he did in the 1950’s which was to become our family home for over thirty years.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death. Time, then, to revisit.

Chartwell sits behind a high stone wall down a narrow winding lane with far reaching views across the Kentish Weald. Winston bought the place in 1922 and it provided a sanctuary for him, his wife Clementine and their children away from London and matters of state.

When World War Two ended in 1945 the Churchills were not confident they could afford to keep the place going but a consortium of friends got together and shored things up for them with the proviso that the property  be bequeathed to the National Trust on the deaths of Winston and Clementine. The Trust is now custodian of this quirky yet highly personal house and its magnificently sweeping gardens and I’m pleased to say that I was able to gain free entry for two using my marvellous National Art Pass.

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Our walk started with a gentle stroll down towards the lake where black swans can be spotted if you’re lucky. Following a rough path around the water’s edge brings you to a small clearing where a sculpture of Winston and Clementine Churchill is situated showing them sitting together looking towards their beloved house. The art work is by sculptor Oscar Nemon and was unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1990.

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Carry on past the sculpture and you reach wild woodland to the south-east edge of the estate. The path here winds uphill through beech and bluebell woods to where a unit of Royal Canadian Engineers camped out during World War Two. These troops set about camouflaging Chartwell, hiding the swimming pool, draining the reservoir and disguising the lakes with brushwood, keeping the place safe from possible aerial attack. Apparently Winston was mightily relieved that his precious goldfish were not in immediate danger.

image Returning downhill from the site of the Canadian camp, the house comes into view across the fields and sloping lawns.

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Inside, the house is a delight – the rooms have been maintained almost as they would have been when the Churchills were in residence: some personal things remain – Winston’s slippers, for instance. Sadly, photography is not allowed, but you can click here to view interiors from the National Trust’s website.

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According to the National Trust’s blurb the house is ‘of little architectural merit’ having been added to and changed over the years by various occupants – Churchill included. When he bought Chartwell he opened up some of the darker rooms by installing large casement windows, making the most of its position overlooking some of Britain’s finest green and pleasant land. It was this view that enticed him to Chartwell in the first place and one of which he never tired.

“A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted.” (Winston Churchill)

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This view point overlooks the miles of  rolling countryside stretching towards the English Channel that fired Churchill’s fierce resolve to keep Britain safe from  invasion. In the centre of the photograph is the wall around the kitchen garden which he helped to build – at a reported two hundred bricks a day.

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Through the arched gateway  is Winston’s art studio, left as if he has just popped out for an amble around his garden.

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He spent hours here painting, finding the relaxation it derived a perfect antidote for the famous depression he suffered and  which he referred to as his ‘ black dog.’ One of his paintings, of his goldfish pond, sold at Sotheby’s for £1.8m last December. Now, having seen his collection of paintings in the studio  (sadly, no photos allowed here either), while they are the dedicated work of a very enthusiastic and prolific amateur, I’m not sure the price the painting fetched at auction is justified, other than the fact it is by Churchill. Here’s a photographic representation of his painting, as near as I could get …

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So much has been written about Churchill: his policies, political leanings, the crossing twice of the House of Commons from Conservative to Liberal and back again, his failures and his triumphs, his family, his speeches and most of all his determination to never surrender to a Nazi invasion. Without his dogged and ruthless determination to plan and implement the Battle for Normandy, which the French will be commemorating this weekend, the course of the war would no doubt have been different. And while we cannot forget the tremendous sacrifice made by  Allied troops on D-Day – 6th June 1944-  and in the days following – perhaps a silent salute to Winston wouldn’t go amiss.

Enjoying your freedom? Thank a veteran.

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There’s not much I can add to what has already been documented and enthused over about the place we visited last weekend on a celebratory city break. And anyway, as I’m feeling inordinately lazy and undisciplined at the moment, I thought a few snaps might suffice.

Well, snaps and  some quotations I’ve come across from various people that I reckon sum it up pretty well.

It’s definitely somewhere to visit at least once in a lifetime: it’s magical, surprising, expensive and indulgent. If you go, enjoy to the full.

Fino ad allora…

 

“In the winter, imageVenice is like an abandoned theatre. The play is finished, but the echoes remain.”

(Arbit Blatas, sculptor and painter) 

 

 

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“If you read a lot, nothing is as great as you’ve imagined. Venice is — Venice is better.”

(Fran Lebowitz, author)

 

 

 

 

 

 “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.”

(Truman Capote, author)

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(…or even this wonderful asparagus, seen at the Rialto market).

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“Though there are some disagreeable things in Venice there is nothing so disagreeable as the visitors.”  (Henry James, author)

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“Streets flooded. Please advise.”
(Robert Benchley,
 journalist and humourist)

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image The Grand Canal
image And of course, a selection of Venetian glass beads

So when will you be booking your tickets?

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The Easter break has arrived, the work-related course is finished, my completed portfolio with every T crossed and every I dotted is winging its way to be moderated.  The pressure of homework has lifted and I’m feeling a little sense of freedom, unlike my students who should be furiously revising for their forthcoming exams. Time to roam with camera in hand and appreciate some local sites while the sun’s out and the wind is blowing.

Rather than use the busy A3 road when I drive to Guildford, I take a shorter, more rural route which was probably the old original way, weaving as it does from the village of Compton up to the Hogs Back. It’s called Down Lane but as I’m approaching it from the bottom end, so to speak, I always go up Down Lane which never fails to amuse me. I’m easily pleased.

However, there is something rather special about Down Lane. A local treasure nestles here amongst the Surrey Hills, surrounded by fields and partially hidden by high hedges. I drive by frequently, have visited several times and marvelled but I’ve never taken pictures until now. This place should be shared, after all.

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Built from local red brick and completed in 1904, The Watts Chapel is approached from a lych gate along a twisty, uphill cobblestone path sheltered by giant yew trees. It’s an unusual, almost incongruous building, in a village where so many of the houses date back some five hundred years. Drawing nearer it is apparent that this little chapel is a testament to Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts Movement.

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It was the brainchild of Mary Seton Watts, wife of the Victorian painter George Frederic Watts (more about him later) who designed and decorated the chapel with the help of around seventy eager Compton villagers: a true and very early community art project.

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Detail of brick work on the arch above the oak door

The outside is adorned with intricate stylised brick work, each finished by a local hand, probably an attendee at one of Mary’s Thursday evening pottery classes. The faces on the stone work are all different; the feeling that this was a collaborative effort is reinforced. Either side of the main entrance are two curved stone benches in Art Nouveau style, the mossy patina only enhancing their design.

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But it is inside the small circular chapel where the extent of Mary’s mission can be fully appreciated. I’d defy anyone not to gasp as the full impact of her vision comes into view as light floods in through the tall narrow windows throwing rainbow beams across the heavily decorated walls.

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It is here that Mary has brought together angels of darkness and light, heaven and earth intertwined by the tree of life with its roots at the bottom and the branches curling ever skyward to embrace the angels nearest to heaven.

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The centre of the ceiling with four angels pointing heavenwards

Many of the floral decorations around the mid rail were created by children under Mary’s guidance; her tree was fashioned from chicken wire and covered in plaster then painted in the same vibrant jewel colours that we can see today.

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The altar carries an inscription and dedication from Mary to the people of Compton. Today the chapel is used for funerals – there is a lone bell reserved for such an occasion. The tolling of the iron bell…

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Outside in the cemetery, the chapel is surrounded by gravestones old and new, some of which follow the Arts and Crafts design. George and Mary Watts are buried here, in front of the magnificent Cloisters. A simple gravestone marks the place.

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The Cloisters

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The gravestone of George and Mary Watts. He died in 1904 just as the chapel was completed; Mary died in 1938.

 

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Detail of iron gateway to the Cloisters

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Headstone in typical Art Nouveau style

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Arts and Crafts headstone among spring flowers

 

Mary and George Watts had settled in a house, Limnerslease, just across the hill from the chapel in the early 1880’s. George Watts was already an established Victorian painter so he was able to fund the building of the chapel for the village of Compton by selling commissioned portraits.  He opened his own gallery – The Watts Gallery (as it is known today) – in Down Lane to display his paintings. Mary concentrated on her pottery – she had been a student at the Slade school of Art and was already forging her own style before she met George.

The gallery, which was recently the subject of complete restoration thanks to some lottery funding, is a testament to George’s prolific output as a painter. He was heralded in his lifetime but was never part of any one particular group or movement. His paintings are typical of the period – stern looking portraits, Italianate landscapes and dead animals. Not my particular cup of tea but definitely worth a look.

So, Down Lane is more than just my shortcut into town – it conceals this beautiful legacy to the Arts and Crafts Movement as well as a gallery full of noted Victorian paintings.  Imagine my horror then, the last time I took this route, when confronted with these hideous carvings.

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The residents of Down Lane have clearly let their association with the Watts’ go to their head. These hastily fashioned paintbrushes are, I presume, a nod to George. To me they look more like a left-over from one of those chainsaw competitions where tartan-shirted lumberjacks have to carve something recognisable within thirty seconds. And two more things about this irks me: part of an old hedge has had to be removed to make way for these monstrosities and the ghastly over-sized metal green sign is depicting Down Lane as anything BUT quiet. It looks monumentally busy, with children aimlessly wandering or cycling the middle of the road.

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I‘m just off to make as much noise as possible and drive as recklessly as I can in the designated restriction free zone.

Happy Easter All!

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Imagine losing all your precious possessions in a major disaster. What would you rescue? Photographs? Your computer? Your jewellery? I know what I’d grab first but this isn’t about me. (If you’d really like to know what I’d save, click here – I wrote about it a while back).
Last week we visited Uppark, a Georgian stately home completely devastated by a monumental fire in 1989 when a builder, finishing off repairs to the lead flashings on the roof, had an accident with a blow torch. Pictures, treasures, furniture and tapestries were pulled from the wreckage. The unfortunate builder’s insurance eventually coughed up £20 million, providing the wherewithal for the National Trust to undertake a major conservation project.

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Uppark, South-facing view

Six years later, in 1995, the house had been restored to its former glory and re-opened its doors to the public. It’s taken us since then to travel the twenty miles or so to check it out. It was the restoration rather than the history of the house that interested me – I’m not usually that bothered about mooching around former homes of the upper classes who, having fallen on hard times or wanting to avoid inheritance tax, bequeath their stately piles to the Trust in return for modest accommodation somewhere on the site.

However, for those who like a little historical content, the house was purchased by one Matthew Fetherstonhaugh, the son of a baronet, in 1747. He then married into the Hugenot family so between them, he and his wife were not short of a bob or two. They embarked on the Grand Tour  – a rite of passage for all the wealthy, ox-bridge educated elite of the time. This was a lengthy tour of cultural Europe, ostensibly undertaken to widen horizons and educate but what it did was allow our monied gentry to purchase works of art, furniture and the like to fill their stately homes after indulgently sampling everything else the continent had to offer. (And our kids thought they invented the gap year – pah!) Over two years the couple amassed a wealth of artworks with which they decorated Uppark.

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Evidence of past pursuits – bagging a couple of pheasants

The years passed by, the house was left to Matthew’s only son Harry who lived a riotous life. He had a brief but torrid affair with a teenager called Emma Hart who lived at Uppark with him until she became pregnant and then he sent her packing. She would later become Lord Nelson’s infamous Mrs Hamilton. The Prince of Wales was a frequent visitor to Uppark where he followed such pursuits as gambling, shooting and hunting.   Through this royal connection Harry met and befriended the designer Humphry Repton who was responsible for adding the front portico,the dairy block and the stables to Uppark.

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The front portico, designed by Repton

At the age of seventy, Harry married his dairymaid, Mary Ann, and the couple lived together until his death twenty years later. She inherited the house and her descendents have lived there ever since, passing Uppark into the hands of the National Trust in 1954 while retaining part of the house for their own use.

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The dairy where Harry met Mary

So, other than providing us with an example of how the wealthy lived in those days, has Uppark actually left the nation with any kind of legacy? Well, yes, because below stairs between 1880-1893, HG Wells (the author) lived briefly with his mother, where she was employed as the family’s housekeeper. It is thought that he gained inspiration for his novel ‘The Time Machine’ while playing in the tunnels that linked the old kitchens at Uppark to the main house.

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The kitchen, now in the main house

Now – enough of the history stuff and on to the restoration. Most of the main house and its contents were damaged in the fire and it was a frenzied labour of love by the family and the National Trust together with countless fire-fighting teams to salvage as many treasures as they could. Touring the house today visitors are hard pushed to detect what is genuinely old and what has been renovated, conserved or restored. Floorboards look fashionably distressed; old paintings and chandeliers cleaned and rehung.  Walls and ceilings have been meticulously copied from old plans – the gilding of the ceiling in the main saloon is stunning. Each room displays a large photograph showing the extent of the damage and it is testament to the craftsmanship and expertise of the restoration team that the house now presents as it does.  An art work that sadly didn’t survive the flames was a Canaletto landscape. One of the fire crew managed to remove it from the wall in the saloon only to leave it resting at the top of the staircase for someone else to carry down …

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Zoe Hillyard’s patchwork vases

Running currently at Uppark is a modern art exhibition whereby thirteen artists have been commissioned to respond to moments and events reflecting the history of the house. Each room houses one of these art works and it was fun to spot them and work out their significance. My favourite were the ceramic patchwork vases created by Zoe Hillyard displayed in the red drawing room. They added a splash of colour, they looked like ceramic pieces stuck haphazardly together but on closer inspection it is revealed that they are made from fabric off-cuts stitched together like a patchwork quilt. A little reminiscent of Grayson Perry’s ceramics – which is probably why they caught my eye.  This exhibition finishes on 2nd November but is worth catching if you can.

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