Cardiff – 31 July

Cardiff Bay - Millennium Centre, the Pierhead building and 'The Senedd' Photo -- Kate Bee)

42 people joined the visit to Cardiff, to enjoy this wonderful city, in glorious weather. Most people chose to start at Cardiff Bay, the site of an incredible regeneration from a run down, dilapidated area that was once one of the busiest ports in Europe to a modern area of culture, politics and entertainment.

On one level the beauty of the buildings was somewhat spoilt by the temporary transformation taking place in readiness for the forthcoming Eisteddfod. On the other hand, it gave a lively buzz to the area reinforcing the feel of regeneration and sense of purpose. One of our members chose to focus on the Arts Gallery, where there were two special exhibitions.

David Beniston

Inro & netsuke, Edo period, 18th-19th century, National Museum of Japanese History

The National Museum Cardiff is an amazing place, with something to please everyone.

On this visit I started with the special exhibition “Kizuna Japan-Wales-Design”. Kizuna means the bonds of friendship and this exhibition explores the distinctive relationship between Wales and Japan and how each culture influenced and contributed to each other’s history. The exhibition includes objects dating back from 400 years right up to contemporary design and technology.  We all know how Japanese art influenced European art, but Japanese artists and craftsmen were fascinated by Western inventions and adapted them in their own unique style (as seen in their unique interpretation of a clockwork mechanism). There is a distinctive 17th century lacquered coffer (a box or chest for valuables) that is the first known Japanese piece to have come to Wales.  Other highlights include a 400 year old hand scroll painted with monsters that was a forerunner of modern animation. There are exquisite ceramics, beautifully embroidered robes and other stunning objects to look at.

The exhibition also explores the relationship of Wales and Japan through technology and how Wales played a decisive part in Japan’s rapid industrialization. Did you know that Welsh steel was used to build Japan’s first railways? Wales is still home to many Japanese manufacturing firms, maintaining the close relationship to this day.

After the special exhibition I visited the permanent collection with excellent pieces of fine art, sculpture and decorative art.  The gallery has one of the finest collections of Impressionist art with works by Monet, Manet, Renoir, van Gogh, Cezanne and my favourite, a painting by Berthe Morisot.  The modern painting collection includes works by Hockney and Bacon. This is one of the best art collections in the UK and I can guarantee that you will be surprised to see famous works of art that you had no idea were here.  If you can tear yourself away from the art there is also the rest of the museum to see. Best thing of all, it is entirely free of charge, including the special exhibitions.

Dalyce Binley

 

Barrington Court & Dillington House – 17 May

Dillington House, photographed by Claire Osgood

What a delight it was driving through Somerset with trees in fresh new leaf and cow parsley lining the roads. Claire had it all well organised to include the weather – a perfect sunny day.

Barrington Court

On arrival at Barrington Court we had to go on foot through the garden rooms, originally set out to Gertrude Jekyll’s designs and still planted in harmonic colours. The lily garden was particularly striking with rusty shades of azaleas and more than usual brilliance for early summer. The White Garden, inspired by Sissinghurst, was particularly pretty with unusual white forget-me-nots providing a froth between white tulips. The kitchen garden was exemplary.

Refreshments were served in Strode House where the Lyle family lived – a combination of a 1550s house with a stable block of 1674. Sitting in the sunshine overlooking parkland stretching away into the distance beyond the ha-ha was very relaxing. Then indoors to Court House to admire endless salvaged antique woodwork refitted by Colonel Lyle. Many rooms had a ghostly banner hanging, showing their use in the 16th century, e.g. storing barrels of cider – but the 1920s bathrooms with huge baths made me wonder if they ever ran out of hot water.

Dillington

Neil, our guide, greeted us at the handsome front door surrounded by fragrant wisteria, shown off to good effect by the ham stone.

After earlier mentions of Dillington in an Anglo Saxon charter, and after the Norman conquest, Dillington passed through various hands before it came to the Bonville family. We saw more oak panelling dating back to the 1580s and a memorable Ice House. Sir George Speke increased the house to an E-shaped plan typical of Tudor architecture. The most notable alterations were by Sir James Pennethorne (designer of the ballroom at Buckingham Palace) and are what we see today.

In the Second World War, Dillington was a temporary HQ of the U.S. Army’s Airborne Division and casualties from Normandy recuperated there.

We saw portraits of the Malet family on loan to Somerset County Council. The present owner, Lord Ewen Cameron, has never lived in the house but his mother was born there. In 1949 a long lease was taken by Somerset County Council and it became Somerset’s residential centre for adult education with 40 en suite bedrooms. It now hosts civil ceremonies, and weddings too.

In 2009 The Hyde was built – a contemporary building which won a RIBA award in 2016.

Before leaving some of us explored the Wilderness, with over 40 species of trees, some of which are over 100 years old. Indeed, a few of us went home with cider from the orchard, planted in 2009.

Elizabeth Barnes

Southampton – 18 April

The Tudor House, Southampton

The Tudor House, SouthamptonSouthampton is a vibrant city with a rich and varied history. Members made their own decisions about what to choose to do from the wide range on offer, from art galleries, historical sights, the quayside and very modern shopping complexes. Something for everyone.

Perhaps the three most popular venues were the City Art Gallery, the Sea City Museum and the Tudor House Museum.

The City Art gallery has an impressive range of paintings, drawings, sculpture and photography in both its extensive permanent collection and its special exhibitions. The works on display in the permanent exhibition range from the Renaissance to the present day. A current exhibition of photography “Roger Mayne and St Ives: A Defining Moment” was particularly interesting, showing early work by this world renowned photographer including previously unseen images of St Ives. Mayne’s work was influenced by his encounter with the St Ives group of artists. A fascinating experience was available to those able to download an app when visiting the Burne Jones’ Perseus Series exhibition. By opening the app and pointing the mobile phone at a painting a description of the painting together with some background information was available. Next time I use this facility I must remember to take along headphones so as not to distract other visitors!

The Sea Life Museum proved to be very interesting and well-presented. Personally, I ran out of time to view other sections as I was taken by the Titanic exhibition. A really excellent presentation providing historical facts, technical information and, importantly for this city, an insight into social aspects and how the tragedy affected so many people in Southampton who lost loved ones who were working on the ship. A story of real human tragedy.

The Tudor House, and its interesting knot garden, is a gem. It is cleverly arranged to show how the use of the house and the surrounding environment have changed over the centuries. Seeing evidence of the changes was like a mini account of Southampton’s story through the history of this one house.

After an interesting trip the journey home was an added delight. The lovely evening light, and the clear signs of spring in the landscape, viewed from the elevated seating on the coach, rounded off a really enjoyable day.

David Beniston

‘Charles I, King & Collector’, at The Royal Academy, London – 27 March

Charles I in the Hunting Field

Charles I in the Hunting FieldThe ‘Charles I, King & Collector’ show, with its myriad treasures, primarily from the Northern and Italian Renaissance, will certainly prove to be one of the exhibitions of the year. What a collection, all notionally in the ownership of one man! Work by Titian, Mantegna, The Younger Holbein, Brueghel the Elder, Tintoretto, Gentileschi, Giovane, Bernini and, of course, those ‘twin giants’ Peter Paul Rubens and Court Painter, Anthony Van Dyck, taken together, formed an impressive archive by anybody’s standards. Its acquisition, dissolution and reassembly, for the purpose of this, unique exhibition is a remarkable story in itself.

Charles I was nothing if not a vain man, as underlined by the number of (invariably enormous) portraits of him that feature in this show, almost all by the hand of Van Dyck. Also, Charles’ reputation for being notoriously reluctant to pay his debts regarding the copious number of works purchased – and never the full price agreed – does little to enhance his standing as the foremost connoisseur-collector of his time. However, as we know, a series of fatal, political moves cost him both his throne and his head, condemning this country to eleven years as a Republic, from which the relatively newly ‘United Kingdom’ was fortunate (or not, depending upon your royalist or republican leanings!) to ‘reverse’.

Favourite work on show?… So many candidates! Possibly one of Van Dyck’s imposing equestrian portraits of Charles in the Hunting Field, hung together, to great effect, in the Central Hall? Or maybe the well-known ‘Charles I in three positions’ painting, again by Van Dyck and now restored to the Royal Collection? Others may favour the enormous Mortlake Tapestries, woven from designs by Raphael or Giovane’s ‘The Conversion of St. Paul’ and its companion piece, ‘The Triumph of David over Goliath’, from the Prado. For me, possibly a dead heat between Hans Holbein the Younger’s ‘Noli me tangere’ and Titian’s ‘Supper at Emmaus’, loaned from the Louvre.

Bob Williams

Swindon Art Gallery & ‘Steam’ Museum – 30 January

Commemorative Bell

It is pleasing to report that our mid-winter half day visit to Swindon proved remarkably popular. An introductory talk by the Museum Curator gave us some insight into the history of the Swindon Collection since its inception, back in 1921, when Jimmy Bomford set the ball rolling with the donation of 21 paintings. The Curator also shared with us useful background information on the key artists represented within the Collection. Works by Alfred Wallace, John & Paul Nash, William Roberts, Frank Brangwyn, George Clausen, and Henry Moore all caught the eye. However, for me, the ‘gold medal’ surely had to be shared between Gwen John (her 1910 Portrait of a Lady in pencil and wash), and John Skeaping (Barbara Hepworth’s first husband) for his drawing ‘Study of Roe Deer’. Oh, that we were all capable of capturing such a sense of movement!

In the 1970s the Gallery started to acquire, again initially via a benefactor, what has since become a fine collection of studio ceramics. Bernard and David Leach, Hans Coper, Lucie Rie, Ray Finch, Edmund de Waal and Grayson Perry all feature.

There is every prospect of the Swindon Collection being given a new home, on a prime site in the centre of the town, should the anticipated Lottery Funding come to fruition.

For me, the opportunity to re-visit Swindon’s iconic Steam Museum (for the first time in over 50 years!) proved a nostalgic experience. A fair number of our travelling members and friends obviously felt the same way!

Preserved number and nameplates, from legendary Castle, Hall, City and King Class locomotives, brass all beautifully polished, the original eight ft diameter driving wheels of Brunel’s broad gauge Lord of the Isles and a small section of surviving pipeline from his Atmospheric Railway (one of his very few failures!) all feature among the artifacts on display. A reconstruction of the Foundry, Boiler Shop, etc., gave some insight into how tough the working conditions would have been, the majority of the work force being deaf, from the pervading noise, by the time they were thirty.

The prime exhibits, without a doubt, were the fully restored Caerphilly Castle, City of Truro, and the flagship of the GWR fleet, No.6000, George V. 160 Castle Class locos were built, all in the Swindon works, between 1923-50. In 1927 George V (135 tons,

including the tender) was shipped to the USA to spend 22 days, as star of the show, at the ‘Fair of the Iron Horse’, Baltimore, Ohio. Finally retired in 1962, it covered nearly two million miles during its years of service with the Great Western.

A different era, but the Museum still stands testimony to a golden age of British engineering and man’s capacity to design essential, functional objects of enduring beauty.

Bob Williams

Talboys, Keevil – 11 December 2017

Talboys

What does “Talboys” Keevil conjure up? We had no idea what to expect, but the description in the Autumn magazine did not disappoint. Dating from the 15th Century, it is a timber framed hall house with wattle and daub panels, built of limestone ashlar, the roof stone tiled and gabled. It certainly looked old, but absolutely charming, and is said to be one of oldest properties in Wiltshire.

We walked through the massive entrance door through a passageway into the original gallery with vaulted roof. This is the family home of Mr. and Mrs. Mowbray, and there is all the paraphernalia that children leave around with, in contrast, living side by side, many objects d’art, that have been there for centuries.

On arrival, we were divided into two groups, one going around the house with the owner, and the other to the adjacent St. Leonard’s church built l4-16th Century, which has a Norman Sanctus bell.

You can say that “Talboys” is unique. It was built in two parts, one fireplace has the date AD 1450 and the other 1875 and the window tracery at the front was also renewed at this later time. The downstairs has many large rooms and upstairs 5/6 bedrooms. Log fires burned, while we later sampled a delicious tea of sandwiches and cake, shutting out the cold weather outside.

The village of Keevil is first mentioned in an Anglo Saxon document of 964 and the High Street of old houses would be an interesting place to explore further on a nice summer’s day.

Joyce Shaw

London – 28 November

Modigliani's The Little Peasant

‘You look out at the world with one eye and into yourself with the other’… a quote attributed to Amedeo Modigliani. Choosing to visit the ‘Modigliani’ blockbuster exhibition at Tate Modern did not disappoint and proved the veracity of this quotation in more ways than one. Modigliani was certainly a close observer of humankind, strongly favouring the female of the species; the almond – or, occasionally, piercing, blue eyes – of these models were themselves hypnotic to view.

Seeing the Little Peasant, c.1918, (a familiar exhibit on the walls of Tate Britain for as long as I can remember) exhibited here among the nude and portrait paintings, where the artist invariably employed really strong colours, was something of a shock. I think, as a teenager I had come to associate Modigliani simply with the washed out grey/blues of Le Petit Paysan!

The Tate website describes Modigliani’s sensuous and seductive nudes – twelve large paintings – as the highlight of the exhibition. (When first revealed to the world, in 1917, they would have been pretty shocking and rapidly led to police censorship). Personally I felt that the show’s pièce de résistance was, in fact, the room devoted to his superbly carved heads, all beautifully lit. I could have lingered here all afternoon. This relatively brief period of sculptural endeavour (1911-13), together with Modigliani’s ‘Caryatid’ drawings, owed much to the readily accessible visual references available to artists and sculptors in Paris at the time, primarily carved objects from Egypt, Cambodia and the Ivory Coast. Sadly the health issues which dogged him for much of his life were exacerbated by the dust from the stone that he was engaged in carving. It would have been fascinating to see how his work would have developed had he been able to continue with this aspect of his creative output.

Modigliani and his fellow Parisian artists, Soutine and Utrillo among others, were labelled ‘les peintres maudits’ – painters under a curse. Strong drink, drugs and sheer misfortune saw them all off at a relatively young age. Modigliani was only 35 when he succumbed to tubercular meningitis, the tragedy of a talented young life snuffed out compounded by the suicide of his pregnant fiancée and muse, Jeanne Hebuterne.

Those of our travelling members and friends who hiked across to Tate Modern were not disappointed. Others reported of equally enjoyable viewing experiences at the British Museum (Scythians), the National Gallery (Degas from the Burrell), the R.A.(Jasper Johns) and, over at Tate Britain, (Impressionists in London).

Bob Williams

Compton Verney — 28th September 2017

Blaze by Bridget Riley

Compton Verney was the home of the Verney family, headed by the Barons Willoughby de Broke, but is now owned by an educational charity. It houses many art collections, including British Folk Art, British Portraits, Chinese bronzes and terracotta horses, Neapolitan paintings and Northern European art, as well as a Women’s Library. Temporary exhibitions are held there and the one that was current on our visit was ‘From Seurat to Riley: The Art of Perception.’ After a brief welcome and introduction we were free to wander round these galleries, ‘Capability’ Brown’s lovely parkland and the chapel.

The chapel was designed and built by Brown (1776-9) to replace the one he destroyed because it blocked the view of his landscape from the house. The interior is white throughout and the pews are set along the North and South walls to leave the centre open, producing a wonderful sense of space and light. The high coffered ceiling and the windows are decorated with rosettes and coving and the walls with plasterwork panels. From the West door, the far view is of the East wall and the marble table tomb of Richard and Margaret Verney which stands a little before it. This, with several wall memorial sculptures and brasses, was transferred from the original chapel.

Blaze by Bridget RileyMany of us enjoyed a conducted tour of the temporary exhibition, a brilliant demonstration of the difference between what we are looking at and what we see. From Chevreul’s book on the organisation and perception of colour, opened at his 72-section colour circle, we passed to Seurat’s pointilliiste ‘La Luzerne’ and ‘The Morning Walk’ in which neighbouring spots of colour leave the viewer’s eye and brain to mix them. From there we moved through the angular Vorticist works to the Kinetic and Op (optic) art of Bridget Riley and Vasarely. Riley’s ‘Achaean,’ a panel of vertical coloured stripes, stems from Seurat’s technique in that the perceived colours of stripes depend upon their neighbours. In her black and white design, ‘Fall,’ waves appeared to be three dimensional and when we moved from one side to the other they rolled. In ‘Blaze 4’ a circular pattern of black and white chevrons led the eye to a blank circle through which light seemed to shine, as if from a lamp; but it was only white paper. Vasarely, like Riley, was a driving force in Op art. His ‘Zebra’ was clearly three-dimensional despite consisting only of black lines on flat white paper. We saw colour where none was painted in another black and white design. The blues in Peter Sedgley’s ‘Suspense’ changed hue and his still, concentric, coloured circles spun. In the works of Gotz, solids could be seen also as voids, and steps went both up and down. In Escher’s ‘Day and Night’ we saw white birds flying into the darkness on the right while the black space between them formed birds flying towards the light on the left. In Lambie’s ‘Sun Visor’ thin triangular strips of colour converged on a blue circle that throbbed, but only in our mind’s eye. Liz West’s installation, ‘Our Spectral Vision’ summed up our experience of the exhibition: it definitely consisted of vertical, illuminated tubes of different colours and the colours definitely changed when we walked from one side to the other. Then we were told that only white light was used. It was a dazzling exhibition and our guides, Steve and Emma, played a most important part in our appreciation of it.

Thank you, Claire, for arranging such an enjoyable visit and for booking the finest weather of the week for our journey.

Michael Sandilands

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

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