Posts Tagged ‘Picasso’

Since reading Gwen’s post on aging last week, something has occurred to me.  I am now doing things that two or three decades ago, I wouldn’t have dreamt of: visiting stately homes for instance.  Perhaps I should clarify what I mean by stately home. First of all, I don’t mean houses that have belonged to someone famous, such as Winston Churchill, Henry Moore or Agatha Christie. These places have meaning and are a delight to visit because they provide us with a glimpse into the worlds and therefore minds of their owners. No, I mean the ones that have been bequeathed to the nation by the families of the once very rich but now unknown socialites who think the rest of us will be interested in the history of their dysfunctional families, but in truth are trying in some way to recoup the enormous bill left by the death duties of their forbears.

Mottisfont

Mottisfont

So when my friend (the sea-sick one who valiantly accompanied me on my boat trip down the river Thames to view the Barrier), suggested a day out at Mottisfont in Hampshire, I wasn’t immediately jumping with excitement, until she went on to explain that it was also the venue for an exhibition of the photography of the late Patrick Lichfield. Famous for the official royal wedding pictures of Charles and Diana, as well as many celebrity portraits, this is the first large scale exhibition to document Lichfield’s work from the 1960’s right up to 2004, the year before his death.

Lichfield himself is no stranger to hereditary wealth and title. He inherited an earldom and huge estate in Staffordshire – Shugborough – from his father. During his life time he turned its ownership over to the National Trust (who cannily leased it for 99 years to the County Council), while he maintained an apartment in the house and kept a keen eye on the running of the estate.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of our National Trust (I may have mentioned this several times before. I make no apology), but I have to concede that this is a clever way to get the punters in. A series of rooms on the top floor at Mottisfont have been converted into a spacious art gallery where a series of exhibitions can be viewed throughout the year.

The Lichfield show comprises over fifty portraits of celebrities, ranging from Pele to the Queen, some in colour, others monochrome. Visitor photography is prohibited in the galleries, but you can see a sample of Lichfield’s work here. Some of his photographs are so well known that they come as no surprise – like the informal snap of Mick Jagger and Bianca in the back of their wedding car – but others, such as the Queen leaning over the railings of the royal yacht or Princess Margaret surrounded by adoring young things on her holiday island gives the visitor a glimpse into not only Lichfield’s world, but also to his mastery behind the lens.

Part of the River Test runs through the grounds

Part of the River Test runs through the grounds

 Mottisfont is situated in Hampshire alongside the River Test, a beautiful meandering chalk stream famous for some of the finest fly fishing in the country as well as featuring in Richard Adam’s novel, Watership Down. As we drove along the lanes, through the Somborne villages approaching Mottisfont, there were still signs of the recent flooding: sandbags piled high, diversions in place – fairly deep extended puddles to navigate – I glanced sideways at SSF (Sea Sick Friend) to make sure she was coping with all this unexpected water.

Our first priority on a day out like this, on arrival, is to locate the coffee shop, which in the case of Mottisfont, is round the back by the tradesman’s entrance, in the old kitchen.  The coffee is good and the selection of homemade cakes and scones are tempting. We reined in gluttony by sharing a substantial teacake before starting our tour of the house.

Back view of Mottisfont, coffee shop is bottom left of building

Back view of Mottisfont, coffee shop is bottom left of building

The National Trust has looked after Mottisfont since 1957 when the owner, Mrs Maud Russell passed it to them. She, like Lichfield at Shugborough, continued to live in a section of the house until 1972, when she moved to smaller premises in the village. She and her husband Gilbert bought Mottisfont in the early 1930’s, beginning a program of restoration on the house which had fallen into disrepair. The house became an oasis for artists, writers and philosophers; Maud’s weekend parties were apparently legendary.

As we toured the house it became evident that Maud Russell, while being incredibly wealthy, was an avid art collector. She owned pictures by Picasso, Degas and Modigliani. We spied works by Lowry, Ben Nicholson, Matisse and Pasmore. The art works are jumbled up along the dark hallway, in the reception rooms and the bedrooms. It is necessary to pay close attention in case you miss the Piper and the Hepworth. Maud Russell’s collection is revelatory.

So what, you may wonder, is my beef with the National Trust? It is that the houses of which they are custodians become institutionalised; there is a common theme threading through nearly all of the properties I have visited.  Although Maud’s paintings were there for all to see, there was no feeling in the house of Maud, the woman, her family or of the social whirl in which she lived. The Trust takes these houses on and yes, they preserve them but the essence of their former owners is gone. Original fixtures and fittings go and in their place the Trust put in ‘furniture of the period;’ they create libraries with fake book spines glued to the walls to create the illusion that the last incumbent was intellectual and they put down fitted contract carpeting. I am well aware that my gripes probably put me somewhere on the A spectrum, but I do like things to be correct – and this so patently isn’t.

The pleached lime walk

The pleached lime walk

After returning to the cafe for a spot of lunch – very good, wholesome food – we took a wander around the grounds. The gardens here were created by several landscape artists, all friends of Maud, including Geoffrey Jellicoe who designed the pleached lime walk and Norah Lindsay, the Tudor parterre.

Cornus and hellebores in the winter garden

Cornus and hellebores in the winter garden

My favourite part of the grounds however, was the little winter garden, where soft heads of hellebores were out in full bloom contrasting with the stark, flaming stems of Cornus sericea and miniature daffodils fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

The winter garden

The winter garden

Hellebores

Hellebores

So there we are. Stately homes grow on you (me) with age. But it’s a slippery slope. What next, I wonder? Buying fridge magnets from the gift shop?

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In Bruges

We’re just back from a weekend in Bruges. How we have missed visiting this little gem of a Belgian city for so long I can’t imagine, it being so accessible from home.  We left at 9.00 am on Saturday and were tucking into moules frites at lunch time in Burg Square. Unusually for us, our journey was without setback – straight down to Folkestone, through the tunnel and out of Calais before you could say traffic jam, industrial action or unforeseen weather conditions.

The only hitch encountered was when Sat-Nav woman gave up once we were within the city walls, leaving us high and dry and armed only with a historical walking map. A fair amount of swearing ensued, which for those familiar with the film, “In Bruges,” was suitably fitting.

The city is crammed with churches (including the Basilica which alleges to have a fragment of the Holy Blood); once we’d exhausted all things ecclesiastical we found the most amazing exhibition of Picasso’s drawings shown alongside contemporaries such as Cocteau, Braque and Chagall. It was almost too much to take in to be honest, so a visit to several chocolate shops redressed that particular cultural overload.

I’d recommend a trip to Bruges –  it doesn’t involve flying, which has, for us, on many occasions, ruined a short break by conspiring to make it even shorter through delays and cancellations.  No hanging around in air-conditioned lounges for hours on end either – almost independent travelling – marvellous!

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