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.
Many 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.