West Horseley House and Grange Park Opera Company

West Horseley Place in Surrey

This is the side elevation of the house, medieval but clad in c16 brick. This is the old part as if any of it is recent! Not exactly art but certainly architecture and the Arts

The house is associated with Henry VIII who gave it to one of his favourites in 1534, a man called Courtenay. This was about the time that Thomas Cromwell was gathering strength, and being more proficient in the black arts, managed to persuade the king, that Courtenay was a Catholic and a subversive. Courtenay was executed. This was about the time of Henry’s break with Rome which was unpopular, and which increased Henry’s paranoia. He was prone to striking down anyone whom he suspected of subversion, with or without evidence

The Raleighs later owned the house. Sir Walter the well-known colonist of North America, who fell foul of James I, was executed in 1618. The house, through his brother-in-law, was left to Raleigh’s surviving son Carew. There is a story, well-known, that Raleigh’s head was rescued from its pike on London Bridge, and dropped onto a waiting boat on the river. The head was kept by his widow wrapped in a velvet cloth, for some years at West Horseley. Later Carew’s two sons and baby daughter, all of whom died of an epidemic, were buried under the floor of St.Mary’s Church nearby. The head was buried with them

To come up-to-date, the house was bequeathed two years, unexpectedly, by the then owner the duchess of Roxburgh, to Bamber Gascoigne. People of my age will remember him as the host of that erudite TV quiz University Challenge, which he presented for many years since its inception. Today it is still running and hosted by Jeremy Paxman, who is good, but not the same. We toured the house recently, with a group from Guildford museum, and were privileged to be shown round by Bamber himself. His voice still sounds the same despite the years. I kept expecting him to say, “Jesus, your starter for ten………………”

And now the most exciting development, the creation of the Theatre in the Woods. About a year or more ago, the Gascoignes were visited by one Lasfi Kani, the major force behind the Grange Park Opera Company. At the time this company had been based at another mansion in Hampshire, and had had their lease summarily terminated, and were looking for a new home. West Horseley was agreed upon and work started

Incredibly from the first sod being cut in June 2016, the programme was published and world class voices engaged with performance dates set for June 2017. Within that last twelve months, Ms Kani raised the £8 million needed to fund the building. The theatre stands now ready for performances next month. The first, Tosca is sold out already. The theatre is ready in that it has seats, and is weatherproof. There is still finishing work to be done

There is no doubt that this will be a venue to rival Glyndebourne

The house itself needs about £8 million spent on it to bring it up to standard, and the surrounding estate houses, another three. A charity has been formed to raise funds necessary

The opera company has its own web site should you want to read more

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One of two c16 century dog kennels near the front door. Two outside the same house are unique. Both are Grade 1 listed

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From Sketch to Finished Painting

Lavant Cottage

The finished house portrait

Just a pity that the camera leeches out some of the colour, try as I might to avoid it happening. The original has a much softer tone

This was an interesting commission, and of course follows on from the last post about the value of the preliminary sketch. The lights and darks from the tonal sketch were invaluable as a reference. What was so delightful about this subject was the strong light coming from the left and low at that.

After transferring the drawing onto watercolour paper, I bathed the whole thing in a mix of Naples Yellow and Raw Sienna. There was very little sky in the frame, so I saw little point in trying to introduce a sky colour. I have used this neutral sky on several occasions before and it works well, when you need to soften the subject, and also focus on a subject, so pertinent  when you are doing a house portrait.

I usually paint roof tops with Burnt Sienna over the Raw Sienna. This time, as it was a commission, and therefore being more careful, I did some research. Some people use Light Red and some too use Indian Red, I was told. After a couple of trials, I elected to use Light Red, which I found rather pleasing and closer to the reference photograph.

The dark shadow was a mix of Violet and Transparent Brown, always successful. Some orange brickwork and one or two red roses to lead the eye

I was pleased with the result. A nice soft portrait of a period house, which was not unlike a sepia photograph, evocative of the period and somehow timeless.

From here, I can rest from commissions. I love doing them as they challenge me with something new, but I have exhibition commitments from March, which seems a long way off but not really. I have stock enough to do an exhibition now, but most have been seen this year, those that I have left unsold that is.

That means a new collection, so best get started

Gravetye Manor Hotel: the finished picture

Gravetye Manor Hotel

This is the finished picture of the hotel

The lights and darks helped this painting enormously, which was why I was so grateful for the sun shining just long enough for me to get a shot telling me where they were

The chimneys were hexagonal so each side had a different tonal value. They were fiddly and not sure now whether they were completely accurate, but from the point of view of giving an illusion of their shape, they seemed to work

I used raw sienna mixed with Naples yellow for the sunlit building and also for the path, which is my favourite mix for giving the appearance of sun on stone. The path was a gift for the composition, that bright open gateway surrounded by dark shadow.

Another problem was the plethora of green in the foreground. I used three different mixes which seemed to work, as well as some different plant shapes. The violet flower clump broke some of it up, and that good old favourite, red spots dotted here and there helped to take the eye

I have started to use the odd bit of pastel to get myself out of trouble where I might need a bright light colour over a dark background. I find that is a useful device and a nice change from gouache which isn’t always successful anyway

Will I have to call myself a mixed media artist? I don’t think so

Gravetye Manor Hotel in Sussex, UK

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This is Gravetye Manor Hotel which is near East Grinstead in Sussex, UK.

A beautiful old building dating from the c16 set in acres of woodland, which has been converted some years ago to a very luxurious country house hotel. The grounds are awe inspiring. This view is from the Flower Garden, which is one only of 11 separate garden spaces

The hotel has numerous accolades. Hotel of the Year England 2013/2014, Best Countryside Hotel 2014, Rural Hotel of the Year 2014 and more besides

So I was very pleased and indeed flattered to be commissioned to paint this view of the hotel, on behalf of a delightful couple for whom this hotel has become a special place during a significant time in their lives.

I went there about a month ago, hoping to get a sunny day. I say hoping, because our weather has been so very changeable lately , with sun going in and out of clouds all the time. That is even if one was lucky enough to pick a dry day to start with. I wanted sun and I wanted shadows to make the building look more interesting

This photograph is one of many that I took on the day. The sun came out reluctantly and I got a few shots with shadows cast on the building yet with a few highlights left, on the porch, on the chimneys which were a bit of a nightmare to draw, and also lit the front of the building brilliantly

The interesting part of the composition was the path to the right with the garden gate itself in shadow yet giving onto bright light beyond. Where was that going to? Well, the car park but in artistic terms it could be leading somewhere more romantic

I made some sketches and transferred them onto watercolour paper as a finished drawing, ready to paint which can be the subject of another post

Gravetye Transferred Drawing

A little bit pale as I tried to avoid dark pencil lines, but the gist of the composition is there

Exhibition at Royal Surrey County Hospital

Brewery Dray

Brewery Dray in Guildford

When we were breaking down the exhibition on Friday morning, I sold this painting at the last minute. A young woman arrived breathless with the money and bought it. I was very pleased with this as it raised my score for the whole exhibition to four paintings sold. Not the best that I have ever done but not the worst either, and certainly quite respectable.

The other three were Strolling through Montmartre, Grand Canal Venice and Painshill Park

Paris and Venice are always popular, especially the well-known landmarks. I have almost lost count of how many of each that I have sold. Painshill Park is a new subject for me and I was heartened to sell this picture, as I now feel encouraged to paint some other views, of which there are many to choose from

Painshill is a local estate near Cobham in Surrey. It was laid out in the c18 by a man called Charles Hamilton. It was in the style of a natural landscape made popular at the time by garden architects like Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton. The views were sculpted, whole forests were planted, fake ruins were built and rivers were dammed to form lakes.

Hamilton worked a lot with American species of trees. It was interesting to note that you could import a “box” of plants from American nurserymen, suitably packed to withstand the rough and long sea voyage. Many did survive and are still flourishing in the park today.

Over the years, the place deteriorated and became overgrown. In the 1950s it was rediscovered and lovingly brought back to life. Every year there is a new project. Recently the old boat house was rebuilt using old photographs. The previous year one of the bridges was replaced using an old painting as a reference. I attach my painting

PainshilL Park, Surrey

This was an unwary group of people feeding the Canada Geese by the lake at Painshill. There are literally flocks of geese of different species, as well as ducks and swans. Always a lot of activity on the water. In the background is one of the strategically placed follies, which I think is the Gothic Chapel

I am starting to whet my own appetite for painting here again!

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A different view of the lake with a different ruin which could make a good subject. Wants something in the foreground though. I have umpteen swan pictures from which to choose.

I have a commission to do and then I might tackle this one

Schlee Collection at Mottisfont Abbey

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Mottisfont Abbey near Romsey in Hampshire, UK, owned by the National Trust

We were at Mottisfont yesterday to see the roses which are magnificent now. These are grown inside the old walled kitchen garden, which give them a superb backdrop against old brickwork. I took some pictures of specimens, especially blooms which are about to fall, hopefully to do a rose study again. I haven’t done one for a long time. Not just the roses though. We had come to see the art, in the form of the Schlee Collection which is on loan from Southampton Art Gallery until July 3rd

There is an exhibition of the Schlee Collection of drawings and sketches, on loan from Southampton Art Gallery, which lasts until July 3rd. A private collection which was bequeathed to Southampton Art gallery in 2013, which includes work or should I say squiggles, by David Hockney, Henry Moore and Franz Auerbach, plus many others. I would like to say that I was thrilled by them, but I wasn’t. Heavily worked and corrected jottings are not very impressive, even if by one of the great names in British art. I was more pleased to see a drawing by Barbara Hepworth of an operating theatre, placed next to her mentor Henry Moore’s work. The Barbara Hepworth was borrowed from the Derek Hill collection which is in permanent residence at Mottisfont.

Derek Hill was a portrait and landscape painter of note, who became sought-after during the 1960s. From the south of England he moved to the west coast of Ireland and founded the Tory Island School of painting, where he taught the fishermen to paint the wild Irish landscape. He was also an avid collector of modern art, including the post-Impressionists. He was a friend of Maud Russell the last owner of Mottisfont, and bequeathed a portion of his collection there. These are always worth seeing, including many of his own works, time and again.

For me, however, the gem is still the Whistler room. Here we see Rex Whistler’s unfinished murals. Unfinished because he was killed in Normandy in 1944. His trompe l’oeil paint pot and brush high up on the coving below the ceiling, still makes me feel that I want to get a ladder and climb up and get it. I believe several have in the past

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