Rex Whistler at Plas Newydd in Anglesey

Rex Whistler includes himself in his painting

Last week we were in North Wales, staying in Caernarfon, never sure about the spelling, and spending the week looking at some very good National Trust properties

The house I had wanted to see for a long time was Plas Newydd on Anglesey, the ancestral home of the Marquess of Anglesey. This houses the magnificent mural painted by Rex Whistler, unfinished due to his untimely death in 1944 in France.

The mural, painted on canvas and at 56 feet reputed to be the longest in the country, is such a wonderful work that it needs to be seen to be appreciated. I took some pictures, but because of the understandable light level in the viewing chamber, these are poor, and I am still debating whether to include them or not.

Whistler had fallen madly in love with Lady Caroline, daughter of the then Marquess, and there are references in the painting. His self portrait I have included above. There is also a painting of Lady Caroline in the picture too

At the far right of the painting are two trees intertwined, one of which is dying. That one represents Whistler who is dying of unrequited love.

The whole thing is of a fantastical scene of a classical harbour with magnificent buildings and ships with an atmospheric backdrop of mountains based on Snowdonia with dramatic cloud formations

At the time he was in great demand for stage sets and murals in great houses. Many times I have admired his work at Mottisfont in Hampshire, and of course in the restaurant at the Tate

The Plas Newydd mural is staggering and just holds you for hours if necessary. My pictures disappoint so I will not include them. There are websites or go and see the real thing

The Italian Chapel on Orkney

I have been away travelling and sadly haven’t touched any painting or drawing. I would like to mention this wonderful place we visited on our trip round the Northern Isles, which is very much connected to real art.

Interior of Italian Chapel

I had to use a postcard for this shot, as when we were there the building was crowded, so a clear shot of the altar was impossible

The chapel was created by Italian POWS in 1943, who were employed building concrete causeways between the islands, which also acted as sea defences against U-boat infiltration. The Royal navy had already lost HMS Royal Oak with 800 lives to an enemy torpedo whilst apparently safe in Scapa Flow, so this work was of great importance.

The Italians requested a chapel, and two Nissen huts were made available, fixed end to end. A man called Domenico Chiocchetti had already been recognised as an artist, and he led the team of interior decorators. He was assisted by Giuseppi Palumbi , a blacksmith and Domenico Buttapasta, a worker in cement

With no materials other than what they could find, they transformed the interior into this beautiful work of art. They were given access to the wrecks in Scapa Flow, some of which were exposed at low tide, and from these anything useful like brass or other exotic materials were obtained.

In 1944, their work done, the POWS were moved south, not before receoiving an assurance from the authorities in Orkney, that the chapel would be preserved. Domenico Chiocchetti’s home town was Moena, and there are strong links between Orkney and Moena. with visits both ways. In 2014, three stations of the cross were stolen and three replacements were carved in Moena and brought over.

Domenico Chiocchetti came back in 1994, and was involved in some restoration work himself

The chapel is one of Orkney’s most important tourist spots and welcomes 100,000 visitors each year

This is my photograph on a very grey day

Dragon on the Roof : The Painting

Dragon on the Roof, as the restored Pagoda at Kew Gardens

This is my painted submission from the photograph in the last post

Colour matching was a problem. I don’t think that I had ever tried to render gold paint in watercolour before, so I have had to experiment a bit. I haven’t hit the colour square on, but putting the photograph aside, and just looking at the painting, I do feel that my gold does look like gold paint that has been lacquered. Or so I tell myself.

I used a base coat of raw sienna and Naples Yellow. When that was hard, I started to put in shadows with raw sienna. For darker shadows I started to use some more raw sienna but mixing in quinacradone deep gold. For very deep shadows I was using the deep gold straight out of the tube.

The green was more straightforward, a sap green base coat and let that go hard. I mixed some sap green with french Ultramarine to produce that glossy deep green, and started to work in the shadows. For the deep shadows I used more blue. Some artists I know are horrified about putting on several coats of watercolour paint. I don’t agree. I find the finish goes more and more velvety when you do that, and in this case started to look like gloss paint.

Vermilion for the tongue and tail

I have framed this for the exhibition. I cannot imagine this subject being commercial, but with all these dragons we are meeting the requirements of the organisers, and that is good.

The date is the 15th, so we shall see

Dragon on the Roof

Restored Dragons on the Pagoda in Kew Gardens

Our local art club has a presence at the annual fair in Pirbright, which has decided on dragons as its theme for the day. I don’t know why but……Artists have been asked to submit paintings of dragons, so I have had to put Barcelona on hold, whilst I think of something. Totally without inspiration, I remembered going to Kew Gardens about a fortnight ago, and saw the wonderful restoration of the Pagoda

The Pagoda was designed by Sir William Chambers in 1762. The dragons made of wood were part of the original but taken down after twenty years for renovation, but never put back. For years the pagoda was a dreadful shade of red, but now, thanks to a wonderful restoration, the pagoda has been returned to its original colour, and dragons have been superbly made and are back where the original designer had wanted them

The pagoda had been designed as a gift for Princess Augusta, who founded the Royal Botanical Gardens. I’ve not been to the top. I gather that views over London are spectacular. Perhaps one day.

Anyway, i am going to paint, as my submission, one of these rooftop dragons, and see where it gets me. I don’t have long. Paintings must be installed framed early morning on the 15th. We shall see

Van Gogh Exhibition at Tate Britain

Van Gogh Self Portrait

Superb exhibition of Van Gogh works as well as some of his influences currently at Tate Britain. We went there on Saturday. It was very crowded, and part of me wished that we had got up earlier and gone to the member’s preview at 8am. It was bound to be popular with so many famous paintings brought in from all over the world. The first Van Gogh exhibition since 1947!

He spent three years in London before he started painting. Firstly in the London office of Goupil, the art dealer, and some of the paintings he would have handled were on show. At Goupil he dealt in black and white prints, and himself became a collector, accumulating some 2000 prints. Whilst in England, he developed a fondness for literature, and especially for the works of Dickens. It is believed that he developed his social conscience through reading Dickens, and many of his works depict the misery of poverty.

He was a teacher and later a preacher in Isleworth before returning to the Netherlands and then moving to France to join his brother Theo, also a dealer.

In France he was painting, and from Paris moved to Arles, hopefully to found a colony of artists. Much of his work from this period is too well known to mention, and then sadly he was overtaken by mental illness, the need to self-harm and eventually to commit suicide

Also shown were some of the works of artists, who had been inspired by Van Gogh. Harold Gilman, Spencer Gore, and Matthew Smith led by Walter Sickert of the Camden Group were particular devotees, and it was said that Gilman would raise his brush to a picture of Van Gogh before he started to paint.

Famous paintings here, too many to mention. Sunflowers which was bought for the Tate in 1928 and then moved to the National, is now back. Also Shoes which was possibly the first painting of shoes to be used as a portrait of their owner. Others followed, and here I always think of our local painter and gardener, Gertrude Jekyll

I’ll finish with a bad photograph of Shoes

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It’s on until 11 August

Fountain of Love: the finished painting

The Fountain of Love 

Well, this painting is finally finished. Towards the end, although commissioned, it was starting to become a labour of love, no pun intended.

I found myself wondering whether I would finish or fall at the last hurdle. I feel pleased with it, which is dangerous to say, as the image for approval has only just gone to the client, and if it doesn’t match what he had in mind, then I shall be in difficulties. Worst case scenario, it will be rejected, but even then I would find this one useful for the web-site

In terms of technique, there isn’t much to add to the last post. The jets of water were achieved by flicking white gouache onto a blanked off section of the painting. Always a bit hit and miss, but mostly they have worked, and in some cases provided a realistic white mist

Unless I have to make any last-minute adjustments, I should be free to think of something else, for which I have built up a long list. I am at least at the end of my commissioned work ( for which I am truly grateful), and can now think of my next exhibition which is March/ April as I remember. I have paintings ready but will need more, and so we go on.

Burne-Jones Exhibition at the Tate Art Gallery

Golden Stairs by Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898)

One of many well-known paintings by Sir Edward Burne-Jones featured in a special exhibition currently at Tate Britain until February 2019 which is the first major retrospective to be held for forty years. Inspired by the church and the medieval period, his work represented the antidote to the ugliness and the materialism of the Victorian period.

We went there recently. As always a superlative exhibition. To be seen if you can

There were seven rooms of drawings and paintings. Burne Jones was a superlative draughtsman . The second room deals with his time in Fulham, when he finally had space enough to embark on major projects for which he needed countless preparatory drawings, each one of which could be considered a work of art in its own right.

Renaissance art and four visits to Italy encouraged his approach to the body. His male figures appeared troubled while women were portrayed beautiful yet sinister. About this time he was experimental with media, using gouache with chalk and later metallic pigments.

His attitude to the male figure caused him to resign from the Old Watercolour Society which had been shocked by his work. . He was becoming known as one of the most daring artists of his time. After a blissful period of working to his own pace, his exhibition pictures started to take London by storm, and later Paris, so that he became known throughout Europe.

Most impressive were the rooms containing his Series Paintings, massive works commissioned by serious clients with rooms that can show these works as they should be shown. This was of course the era of the seriously wealthy patron who could command works like these., such as the Perseus series, commissioned by the young future prime Minister Arthur Balfour for his London residence.  Curiously Balfour was later to be president of Woking Golf Club, close to where I live. The only prime minister to be president of a golf club. I wondered what these wonderful paintings would look like in the golf club lounge, but that was me being facetious.

I cannot describe the paintings of the Perseus Story, as they were too magnificent. Like wise the Briar Rose which is really the story of Sleeping Beauty. Wonderful illustrations of knights and princesses. Burne Jones I think today would have been in his element illustrating Game of Thrones or the Harry Potter stories.

He worked closely with William Morris, from whom he derived the bulk of his income. He became especially well-known for designing stained glass windows for churches and cathedrals the breadth of the land and indeed the old Empire.

One of the last great figures of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. This is a wonderful collection gathered together for a short time

Art Exhibition at Leatherhead Theatre

Leatherhead Theatre Exhibition May 2018

A new venue for me in a new town, which is always exciting. Leatherhead is about twenty miles from the Woking/Guildford area where I usually exhibit, so this should be a good opportunity to address an audience which as yet is unfamiliar with my work

Leatherhead is a smaller town than Guildford, but prosperous nonetheless, a commuter town with a busy shopping centre. The theatre is in the middle of town, and open all day, so not just with performances but also with conferences, classes and clubs, so we are told quite a heavy footfall

I have entered six framed paintings and five folios. One thing about a new venue is that nobody has seen any of my work so I can give some previous paintings an airing. Galloping Horses is the only painting that hasn’t been shown at all. Certainly the organisers were very enthusiastic about my work, and expected great things, but then organisers always do. My own theory is to expect the unexpected, which seems to work every time. They actually contacted me, which is unusual and pleasing, having seen my website under Surrey Artists.  Maybe that was the unexpected bit!

The exhibition opened this Tuesday and runs until the 15th. I had an interim report on Thursday telling me which pictures were receiving most interest, namely the Flamingo painting which is one of the framed ones, as well as two of the folios, Sicilian fishing village and Cockerel with Hens. Exciting stuff. It could go either way

As I always say, one would be nice.

By the way, I have had to interrupt progress on the Bosham painting, as I have received a commission which is needed for a wedding anniversary towards the end of this month. I am on with this, but still some way to go, as some parts are tricky. I may well write about it later.

Itching to get back to the Bosham painting, though !!

Impressionists in London Exhibition at Tate Britain

Charing Cross Bridge by Pissarro

Charing Cross Bridge by Camille Pissarro

I took my grandson to see this fascinating exhibition at Tate Britain, a week or so ago, as he is studying Pointillism as part of his Art GCSE syllabus. The work of Camille Pissarro was much in evidence, so a lot for him to have a look at. This was his first visit to a major gallery, so significant, and as he pointed out, we were looking at originals, so the actual canvases that these painters worked on. I sometimes lose sight of that fact myself.

The exhibition was centred around the work of French painters who fled to Britain in the 1870s to escape the horrors of the Franco-Prussian War. Napoleon III had been captured after the Battle of Sedan, and on his release went into exile with his wife, Eugenie, and their son the Crown Prince, in England, living in Chislehurst. All three are entombed in Farnborough, in the abbey founded by Eugenie. After the fall of the Second Empire the fight went on, culminating in the horrific Siege of Paris in 1871. Civil war followed after a popular uprising by the Paris Commune. Thousands died. Many of the Communards were amongst those who fled to Britain, and who were received without question or restriction.

Many well-known painters arrived and stayed in London. Claude Monet had a suite of rooms in the Savoy Hotel, and painted the Thames and Houses of Parliament in all its moods. He loved the London fog, as did Whistler, credited by Oscar Wilde with the “invention of the fog”

Camille Pissarro, whose house in Louceviennes was commandeered by the Prussians, fled to south London with his mother and other relatives, ruined by the conflict. He lived at Kew, and paintings of his, of the Gardens and Kew Green are on display. He was another fascinated by the Thames and painted similar views to Monet, of the Houses of Parliament through the mist, as well as Charing Cross Bridge in the picture shown.

Not all the arrivals were Impressionists. James Tissot having been introduced by his friend Thomas Bowles, made a name for himself as a painter of High Society. With a great eye for colour and fashion, his paintings of ball gowns and uniforms are magnificent.

Many well-known dealers also followed the painters, and there are many more names that one could mention, but in the final room, is displayed the work of Andre Derain, who was inspired by the London paintings of Monet. He was sent to London in 1906 by the dealer Vollard, and produced thirty canvases from this trip. These were in homage to Monet and covered the same subjects , Charing Cross Bridge, the Thames and the Houses of Parliament. Not to my taste, I think he belonged to a group called the Fauvistes, which believed in the arbitrary use of colour. However, his work is successful, and rounds off this exhibiton nicely

Paintings are on loan from galleries across the world, so a one-off opportunity for most of us to see them. Worth going to, more than once if you can

 

Schooldays in the 1950s: Part Two

One of the most important aspects of grammar school life was sport and sporting achievement. Sporting heroes were venerated, whilst scholars were not. I haven’t given this piece a title, quite deliberately, but if I did it could be Sport and Entertainment, which sounds like a quiz round. We had a lot of sport, but very little entertainment. Our antidote to work was sport. There was no place for the frivolous

I have not named my old school yet, I don’t know why, there is no need for me to be coy about it. The college was founded in the c18, by an East India merchant named Richard Churcher, to train boys in mathematics and navigation, before entering the service of the East India Company. The school is Churcher’s College, still very much there, but independent since the introduction of the comprehensive system. It stands alongside the old Portsmouth Road, built of local sandstone, it boasts clocktower, quadrangle,refectory and all those other ingredients of a traditional boy’s college from a distant past. It could be Greyfriar’s or Hogwarts

Sport was very well catered for. Rugby in the autumn term, cross-country running in the spring term and cricket in the summer, were obligatory, and enjoyed by many. I hated all three. My extreme odium was reserved for cross-country running, always on a Tuesday afternoon for juniors, straight after a lunch of corned beef, lumpy mash potato and some mixed salad leaves, with a boiled suet pudding to follow. Running three miles over rough farmland straight after that, was not good for the digestion. Several boys lost their lunch on the way.

I said this took place in the spring term. This ran from early January to Easter more or less so took in the worst two months of the year. Today,  thanks to global warming, we have comparatively mild winters, and rarely have snow in the south. In the 1950s snow was more or less guaranteed straight after Christmas, and would hang around for weeks

We changed in the pavilion, which doubled as a gym. One afternoon sticks in my mind, as our games master opened the doors to start us off. The sky was black, and large flakes of snow fell in blizzard conditions. Surely the run would be cancelled, and we could spend the afternoon in the library.  Dream on.  Smiling, if not laughing, our games master dressed in duffle coat, scarf and gloves waved us on our way. We had rugger shirts and shorts and Plimsoll shoes to protect us against the elements. Today, I think, people would be horrified to run in those conditions. Most runners in the winter seem to wear leggings, hood and anorak today, something about keeping muscles warm.

Across the playing fields and out into Love Lane, we ran en masse. Gradually the good runners pulled ahead, with the boys not built for speed lagging further and further behind. I was usually somewhere in the middle , I have to say

After a mile or so of road running, we approached that terrible first obstacle, the “muddy bridge” which really did sort out the good from the awful. This was an old railway bridge, one of many, which carried the Petersfield to Midhurst railway. The railway was in use then, but later would be axed by Doctor Beeching.  Beneath the bridge never saw the light of day, was very deep mud. It never dried out, not even in good weather. The local farmer drove his cattle through it. The cattle sank above their knees in this ooze, creating holes that filled with water with a crust of ice on top. We forged through this lot, likewise well over our knees, so that it took a very great effort to extricate our feet from this sticky morass of mud and excrement. Plimsolls were lost,  sometimes for ever.

After this we were on to open farmland, which we took in our stride, quite literally. It was expected, and we had to do it, so we did. No one was in touch with their feminine side in those days, if we had one to be in touch with. We were told it was good for us, as we arrived back at the pavilion, our characters built, glad to be alive, glad the ordeal was over for yet another week but yet strangely satisfied as we took our hot shower, forged anew by this arduous test. I felt sorry for the tail-enders, as they trickled in, sometimes in the dark, suffering derisive comments from the games master. I don’t remember any concern being shown for boys late back, only irritation. They could have been face down in a ditch for all that anyone knew.

Reading this back, it looks as though I had a miserable time at school, but not so.  I enjoyed my studies, and also enjoyed my time in the CCF or Combined Cadet Force, which once must have been an Officers Training Corps. You could join either of the three services. I chose the army. Everything was still WW2 issue,  uniform, weapons etc. Give a boy of 14 a .303 rifle and a magazine of blanks, and have him charging round the countryside shooting at the”enemy”, this had to be enjoyable. Health and Safety today would be horrified. This deserves, one day, a chapter of its own, so I will talk about what served as our only light relief in those days.

We read a great deal, it is fair to say. We read the classics without being told to. I read H.Rider Haggard, Robert Louis Stephenson, Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad, and H.G.Wells. These authors wrote wonderful adventure stories which appealed to boys, then. Stories of exploration and of empire, which remember we were only just leaving behind us. The humiliation of the Suez Crisis in 1956 taught us that our days as a world power had come to an end, and that America was taking over.

In our wonderful library, we had, amongst many other things, leather-bound copies of Strand Magazine, a Victorian publication which serialised stories that we know well today. Conan Doyle published his adventures of Sherlock Holmes in this magazine in serialised form, and I remember especially reading Hound of the Baskervilles. I can say truthfully that I read it in the original.

We had comics. I bought the Eagle from W.H.Smith on Havant Station. One of the first comics to run stories of space travel, it was a runaway success. Dan Dare was the great hero with his sidekick Digby from Wigan. Together they thwarted the plans of the Mekon and his reptilian band of Treens

Recently I researched and gave a talk on H.G.Wells and his time in Woking, his most prolific time, from 1895-6, where he wrote works that made him famous like War of the Worlds. He also wrote something called The Man from the Year Million, where humans had developed massive brains with massive heads to match, and atrophied bodies and limbs which had shrunk because they were no longer being used. Interestingly, the illustrators of the Dan Dare stories borrowed from Wells when they created the Mekon character, and somewhere I have a picture.

Mekon_Big

and there is the rascal himself

Dan Dare stories were also broadcast on Radio Luxembourg , which I was not allowed to listen to, in our authoritarian household.

There was very little in the way of titillation. Censorship was strong and minors had to be protected. Nevertheless we sometimes bought a paper called Reveille, which might contain a picture of Diana Dors in a one piece bathing costume! She was Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe, a blond bombshell and a very popular model. She died quite young in 1982, married to a gangster as I remember, and living an orgiastic lifestyle. On a more serious note, she was also RADA trained and a very competent straight actress. I can remember seeing her in character parts in TV dramatisations of different works by DIckens, in which she was excellent.

I became very interested in photography in my mid teens, an interest way out of my meagre budget. I did buy each week, the Amateur Photographer magazine, which cost me 1/6d in old money, out of my pocket money of 3/6d, which left me strapped for the rest of the week. My father liked to read it too, but never thought to cough up a bit more money to cover the outlay. Maybe this propagated in me a latent interest in art, who knows

Bits and pieces come back as I write. I started learning German when I was 14. You were only allowed to do this, if you were already proficient in French. We were encouraged to have pen friends in Germany, and I started to write to Brigitte who lived in Wilhelmshaven, a naval port on the Baltic coast, a place better known for U-boat pens than anything else, but enough of that. We were the same age. She wrote in English and I wrote in German. Her stuff was very girly, as one might expect, and I wasn’t mature enough to say anything interesting either, so the arrangement foundered fairly quickly. She was very good-looking though.  Who knows what became of her.

I think I will stop