Worcester — 27 July 2017

Worcester Cathedral, on a clear blue-sky day

Worcester is a Roman town dominated by the truculent and longest river in England, the Severn, so, with its ancient history, our first priority was to set about learning more about this important city and, after the obligatory coffee break, we set off towards the Information Office. This is contained in a part of the Guildhall, a famous Queen Anne style civic building of 1721 designed in wonderful red brick by a stonemason called Thomas White. The City Art Gallery is further north along the pedestrianised main street but, unfortunately, the permanent exhibition of paintings and sculptures had been stored to accommodate ‘Celebrity’, a collection of film star icons. It included a pair of Fred Astaire’s two tone leather shoes, a ‘little black dress ‘ belonging to Marilyn Monroe and given to her sister, who couldn’t get into it, a pair of earrings worn by Elisabeth Taylor in the film Cleopatra where she first met her ‘double indemnity’ Richard Burton, and a signed Chuck Berry guitar. Whist viewing this I was engaged by a local who enthusiastically told me that a host of great sixties popular musicians, including Eddie Cochrane, Buddy Holly, the Stones and Beatles played in the city.

Approaching lunchtime we walked to the river’s edge for a place to sit but were caught out by a prolonged shower which necessitated snuggling under a lime tree and a very small umbrella! Continuing south along the river path we climbed up to College Green, an open space adjacent to the Cathedral. We entered, gratefully free of charge, through the cloisters to the east end of the nave. Looking up into these spaces always induces a feeling of wonderment at the precise geometry, dexterity with materials and sophisticated construction with basic tools. Worcester, a Benedictine foundation, was built between 1084 and 1374 in the Norman, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular Mediaeval styles. It has the only circular Chapter House in England and houses the tomb of the notorious King John.

We were able to eavesdrop on and enjoy a rehearsal by the polyphonic Cardinall’s Musick who were to give a concert later in the day.

After a cup of tea and a cake in the Chapter House cafe we went into the tented crafts exhibition on College Green, which was displaying pieces by local Art Associations. These included glassware, pottery, ceramics, oil and watercolour paintings, beadwork, textile and stomp work plus a few items of furniture. Well worth the long browse.

From here we walked the short distance to the two Tudor town houses in Friar Street. These both date from the time of the Plantagenet Tudor dynasty change in 1485 and reflect the accelerating shift in influence from the aristocratic and religious to the mercantile. Indicating the status of their trading owners they were built on the town wall near the monastery, with timber frames and wattle and daub infill, housing units on the ground floor for weaving and brewing with living accommodation above. Both had external corridors at street level leading to the rear of the property, the Greyfriars House with a beautifully designed and planted walled garden which provided a wonderful time for some welcome contemplation.

Then, after some shop browsing and another cup of tea, we returned to the pick up point for our journey home.

Ian Stevenson

Some of the group were fortunate to obtain passes for the rehearsal for the evening concert, part of the Three Choirs Festival. We sat for an hour listening to the ravishingly beautiful Faure Requiem and a lovely newer choral work (2009) by Jonathan Dove ‘There was a Child’. In the fine acoustic of this magnificent cathedral the sounds from the singers and the excellent Philharmonia Orchestra were sublime. An added feature was observing the art of the conductor. We heard music that we thought was perfect but then listened when he stopped the action and gave his comments, advice, and sometimes admonishment, to the choir and the orchestra. We marvelled at the noticeable improvements that he managed to elicit. A wonderful bonus to our day.

David Beniston

Another of our group was fortunate to attend a concert by The Cardinall’s Musick, a renowned early music vocal ensemble, who performed four magnificent Tudor ‘symphonies’ in one concert. This included Gaude gloriosa by Tallis and Vox patris caelestis by Mundy. Jean Stevenson’s comment: “most beautiful polyphonic singing in the wonderful setting of the Cathedral.”

Tintern and Symonds Yat — 19 June 2017

The ruins of Tintern Abbey

On what proved to be the hottest day of the year, we were grateful for Chandler’s air conditioned coach on our hour long trip to our first venue, the old station at Tintern, via a short detour through the car park at Tintern Abbey. Our other committed times prevented a tour here but one interesting fact that John Salvat provided for me was that the abbey was practically rebuilt in Victorian times. Dating from 1131, sadly it fell foul of the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII in the 1540s. It now comes under Cadw, the historic arm of the Welsh Government

The old Tintern station is a delightful place providing a welcome coffee, tea or local ice cream for some and a walk along the Wye with its butterfly strewn meadows for others. The sculptures all derived from old tree trunks were superb. Tintern station closed to passengers way back in 1959 before even the Beeching cuts and was on the 15 mile line from Chepstow to Monmouth. Traffic to the local quarry lasted until 1981, but thankfully the station buildings didn’t suffer the demolition fate of many across the country. Trains will never again grace the platforms but two modern coaches with a shop and display area show what might have been.

Our next port of call, literally, was at Symonds Yat where we boarded the Lady Christina for a 40 minutes trip up the Wye. Beforehand John Salvat provided a brief talk on the geology of the area and our first mention of Christmas! Apparently, the glaciers of old created a Christmas pudding effect on the geology to the extent that the local minerals and coal were very close to or on the surface. All such industries and their supporting railway and canal infrastructure is long gone except for the preserved Dean Forest Railway from Lydney to Parkend. Our boat trip took us past the local church dedicated to St. Dubricius, who dates from the time of Tintern Abbey. This proved to be a shady and quiet haven to eat our lunch in the churchyard whilst Canada geese and swans with their cygnets glided gently by. Further downriver the last remaining ferries using punts were passed whilst we turned near the rapids that denoted the three counties of Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire and Herefordshire.

We returned on a more scenic route back to Lydney via Ross-on-Wye and ended up at Taurus Crafts. On this site are a number of artisan craft shops and garden centre but the highlight for many of us was the tea, cakes and scones and some very welcome shade from the incessant heat. There was plenty for everyone to savour on this outing, and our leader Rosalind kept us all in order throughout the day!

John Baxter

Vanessa Bell at Dulwich Picture Gallery — 23 May 2017

Painting of flowers in a vase: Flowers by Vanessa Bell

Our journey began on a bright summer morning, crossing Salisbury plain and giving us a brief glimpse of Stonehenge on route, then on through Hampshire and leafy Surrey into picturesque Dulwich Village.

The gallery was designed by Sir John Soane to house a collection of European art (1600-1800) that had been bequeathed to Dulwich College. Opened in 1817 and visited by many famous artists of the day, including Van Gogh, Monet and Constable, it was the first gallery designed to display art for the public; its simple interior and top-lit galleries give a sense of space and light.

Vanessa Bell

Photograph of sisters Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell playing cricketBrought up surrounded by artistic talent and overshadowed by her sister Virginia, Vanessa at an early age was encouraged to express herself though many art forms and trained at the Royal Academy Schools, one of her tutors being John Singer Sargent. His influence could be seen in an early portrait of Saxon Sydney-Turner at the Piano.

We perhaps know her work best as a leading light within the Bloomsbury Group of artists. Portraits of these friends and family showed her great skill in capturing the essence of character, with bold colourful brushstrokes, in a few cases reducing facial features to a bare minimum or non existence, but still retaining the inner strength of her sitter.

In 1913 Bell, along with Duncan Grant, became a director of Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops and contributed numerous designs for interiors, clothing, rugs and fabrics that were striking in their modernity and chromatic combinations. The designs on display would not have looked out of place today.

Widely travelled throughout Europe Vanessa became an avid collector of ceramics and textiles; these formed the backdrops and settings for most of her still life studies.

Painting of flowers in a vase: Flowers by Vanessa BellEarly examples of these had a quiet ethereal beauty about them, as in the unusual composition, Iceland Poppies 1908-9,  a cream and fine detail study. Four years later in an explosion of colour, Oranges and Lemons, vibrant yellow, green, blue and orange, had the feel and flamboyant style of Van Gogh about it, again beautifully observed. Throughout this exhibition one got the sense of a lifetime experimenting with style and colour to make it uniquely her own.

Also around this period she was producing dust jacket designs for The Hogarth Press; her sister Virginia’s publications were on display.

A keen photographer (her great-aunt was Julia Margaret Cameron ) she recorded everyday life with family and friends and many of these photo albums were on show as well as her detailed interior paintings of her home.

Painting landscape was one of Bell’s favourite pursuits, whether in Sussex or whilst travelling in France and clearly influenced by Bonnard, Picasso and Matisse whose work she knew at first hand; she adapted her own unique style using intense earth colours, formal simplification and bold geometrics, coming together in the lovely, The Pond at Charleston.

This was a diverse and well curated exhibition with many facets and giving some insight into the life of a notable 20th century artist.

Janette Sawyer

Oxford — 26 April 2017

Writing this article today, I reflect that two days ago I didn’t even know I was going and that somehow it has happened and I feel satisfied as one does when waking from a lovely, deep sleep full of sensory images which make one feel restored and relaxed.

The drive to Oxford was great. What a wonderful time of year to travel. The colours of the countryside were vibrant and gleaming new. To pinch an adjective frequently attached to ‘Isle’, the grass really did look emerald and lush, and all the bushes and trees painted by nature in many other harmonising greens: a verdant therapy. Interspersed, as we sped up the M4, were the new rapeseed crops.

Their colour seems to me to be almost unreal: a sort of mustard crossed with sunshine. The fields of these crops are huge and from our heightened stance, one could see
them stretching over the undulating hills for miles.

Added to this were the most beautiful cherry trees, full of blossom, appearing as Roy, our driver, turned off onto smaller roads. The lacy pink and white petals stood sharp against the morning’s poet’s-blue sky. It was just as well, I mused, that I was on my way to view an art exhibition because I felt like I was in a moving painting.

People disappeared into the city on arrival in Oxford but a number of us just crossed the road to The Ashmolean Museum. Aim for the day: to visit the exhibition about the rise of Modernism in France, entitled ‘From Degas to Picasso’. I was delighted by the ease of this trip: no driving, no parking and being deposited just where I wanted to be, fantastic.

The exhibition starts roughly at the Napoleonic Wars and ends roughly at the Second World War. That’s 150 years with 100 works representing 40 artists. I spent four hours enjoying this but it would equally take me 40 pages to describe even some of it, so I’ll outline a few things and hope to capture the gist of this excellent (though foot and back wearying) exhibition.

It was 1957 and Ursula from Germany met Stanley Johnson from America when they were both art students in Paris. In the 1960s they began to collect art and the senior curator of European Art for The Ashmolean Museum, Colin Harrison, flew to Chicago to view their collection, much of which has not been seen in public before.

Colin Harrison carefully selected 100 works to ‘plot the course from neoclassical and romantic artists such as David, Ingres and Delacroix to impressionists and post-impressionists such as Degas, Monet and Seurat and then on to the wild and game-changing experiments of Braque and Picasso’.

Today we are familiar with the technology of enhancing or touching up images of all sorts and I enjoyed looking at Ingres’ ‘Odalisque’ which features a beautiful woman with an unnaturally long back, expanded buttocks and long, unboned arms. Nothing new there then. I loved the comment by Chasseriau, Ingres’ favourite pupil, that he was fed up with his master’s conservatism in style (Ingres was horrified by his pupil’s use of white highlighting) and he thought that Ingres should ‘move with the times’. Again, there is a ring of familiarity about this: doesn’t it happen in every generation?

When Paris’ famous ‘Salon’ rejected the ‘plein air’ work of the group we now know to be The Impressionists, they set up their own and became famous and loved in their own right. (I think I read that John Lennon said that once about the advent of The Beatles.) When photography was invented in the 1830s, it
was no longer necessary to reproduce exactly pictorial images so Manet and his followers were ‘free to be free’, as it were. I marvelled at Seurat’s use of dots
(pointillism) and had to have explained to me how it’s possible to sharpen a crayon or chalk to that degree of finesse. Fellow viewers at exhibitions are
very useful!

Just recently Prince Harry has been much in the news highlighting mental health. When I saw Van Gogh’s etching of his doctor, (May 1890), Dr Gachet, Iwas surprised by the power of emotion I felt. Pissarro, who had been a patient of this doctor, recommended him to Van Gogh. Dr Gachet, a psychiatrist, was interested in working with artists. He gave Van Gogh some copper plate to etch, the first etching the artist had ever done. Van Gogh was apparently delighted and produced this beautiful, soulful work of the doctor. I could imagine this man sitting down with Prince Harry in a room and saying, ‘Tell me all about it son’. Unfortunately Van Gogh was so ill that his death came not long after this work so it remains Van Gogh’s only etching.

Usually I read a child’s book to inform me about subjects before I venture into more sophisticated information. From this source I had understood the idea of the move from Impressionism to Cubism and the desire to show things from many different angles rather than just 2D. Cezanne illustrated this beautifully with his still life in that the vase is seen from above, the pitcher from the side, the orange by segment and so on. I particularly enjoyed Fernand Leger’s painting from 1913 entitled ‘Contraste de formes’. The write up describes how
this is a visual and auditory delight and I agree. You can really hear the tambourines and drums playing whilst marvelling at their shapes drawn from all angles which appear to come out of the surface of the painting. I noted also the remark that the colours (red, white and blue) are patrioti, given the date of the painting and the growing tensions of imminent war.
There is so much more to say and I haven’t even mentioned Degas or Picasso but there is no room in this article. It is a rare and well notated exhibition, if not a little tiring!

After four hours I headed off into Oxford city and came upon ‘The Art Cafe’, not unlike our local one in Melksham. Heaven. I enjoyed a meal of homemade soup, warm bread and coffee and wondered if the cafes of Montmartre had looked a bit like this one. Was that a modern day Renoir or Monet sitting in the corner? Did I pass Albert Gleizer on the rickety stairs?
Our coach arrived punctually and I got out my knitting for the journey home. Blue skies had turned to a moody grey and the mood on the coach was quiet. Snatches of conversation entered my head as I concentrated on plains and purls: ‘We hitchhiked to Denmark in 1961’, ‘ We were going to have lunch by a tree; I don’t know which tree’, ‘She discovered that the deer was eating the camellia’. Maybe a poem I mused? After all, this is the Arts Association of Bradford on Avon. What fun!

Julie Hewson

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery — 5 April 2017

A selection of items from the Staffordshire Hoard

Visiting the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery on a beautiful April day, we were enchanted by the exhibition known as “The Staffordshire Hoard”, a selection from a huge number of tiny items discovered in 2009. It is normally on display in the Midlands so we were fortunate to have a local exhibition.

Four thousand fragments were found (give or take a few), possibly from the defeated armies of unknown battles, and it is believed they were buried in the first half of the 7th century AD near Watling Street during what has come to be known as “the Dark Ages.”

Well, there was nothing primitive about the quality of the most exquisite workmanship to be seen since Sutton Hoo, the delicacy of each tiny fragment reflecting the Anglo Saxons’ supreme talent in Europe where most of the materials must have come from.

They used fine gold wires, frameworks of gold and silver inlaid with red cloisons and decorations, using a patterned die.

The collection consists of fittings from the weaponry of an elite warrior class, the decorations a mixture of birds, horses, serpents and god-heads, a pagan society transferring towards Christianity, and these pieces are measured in millimeters. The largest find is a gold cross weighing 140 g. and bent in half before burial.

I could go on and on about this wonderful hoard, but it really has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Our thanks to Jacqui for organizing such a lovely day out, her bonus being the Art Gallery on the 2nd floor, which is splendid.

Pam Bemment

Cothelstone Manor — 8 February 2017

Cothelstone Manor

Cothelstone Manor is not a name that one would readily bring to mind when thinking about Stately Homes of England, but the 48 members of the coach party who made the trip on Wednesday 8 February to this venue at the south end of the Quantocks, just north of Taunton, will not forget it.

To be specifically correct it is not stately, but is none the less significant, the reference on the Ordnance Map, Cothelstone Farm, belying its quality. There has been a residence on the site for 1400 years. It is in fact a small hamlet situated on the western slopes of a lane leading from Bridgwater to Bishops Lydeard, made up of a Manor House, Gatehouse, walled garden with Gazebo, Church, Cottages and Schoolhouse, all mediaeval, constructed in the same burnt umber sandstone and all housing a rural farm industry.

A handout during the journey had made everyone familiar with the history, which was further enhanced on arrival at the entrance gate by the presence of Nigel Muers-Raby, the current tenant, who then picked out significant events with a florid and amusing lecture delivered with panache and humility from the staircase in the two storeyed entrance hall. Henry IV at Agincourt came to mind.

Following this we were generously allowed to wander around anywhere both inside and outside, except to disturb the dogs, and to attend a talk given by one of the wardens in the church.
It all culminated in a traditional celebration, sandwiches, cakes and tea provided by Nigel’s wife Finny, with everybody relaxing in the numerous ground floor spaces. It had been an eye opening and comforting experience.

While the journey there had been mainly by motorway, the journey home was cross country. It couldn’t have been better.

Ian Stevenson

Isabella Bird (1831-1904) — 5 March 2017

Isabella Bird

Debbie Ireland’s enthusiastic account left a large, appreciative audience wondering how the exploits of the incredibly intrepid 19th century English explorer Isabella Bird could be so little known in England (albeit famous in Scotland).

Isabella began travelling, on her doctor’s advice, following the partial removal of a tumour from her spine and her subsequent depression. After some relatively short journeys she set off round the world. In Hawaii she learned to ride horses astride and climbed the highest mountains. In America, she rode from San Francisco to the Rockies and Colorado, overcoming dangers and harsh weather conditions.

We were taken on Isabella Bird’s ever dangerous journeys in China, Japan and Korea and saw, in her photographs, the places she visited and the people she met and whose food she always shared. These photographs, and the notes and very long letters (one of them 116 pages) she somehow managed to write while travelling, were used in the books she published on her visits to her home in Scotland.

After the death of her sister Henrietta, Isabella married Doctor John Bishop, but he died only five years later and Isabella set off yet again, this time to India. In Amritsar she set up the Henrietta Bird Hospital and in Srinigar the John Bishop Memorial Hospital. From northern India she crossed to the Silk Road and followed it through Iran and Kurdistan to Turkey.

In England again, she met Gladstone and reported the shocking treatment of Armenians. She was made a Fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and became the first woman Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

We were able to visit many of the photographs again in Debbie’s book ‘Isabella Bird’ at the end of the evening. Many thanks to Debbie for a stimulating talk, and to Margaret, who unfailingly brings such interesting speakers to our meetings.

Michael and Jenny Sandilands

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