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

The Liverpool Poets – 8 April

View across the Mersey, Liverpool

View across the Mersey, LiverpoolA large audience, surely the largest we have had for some time, enjoyed listening to Bob Williams read works by the Liverpool Poets, Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten. Bob began by reminding us of the cultural landscape of Liverpool which had produced such figures as Beryl Bainbridge, Ken Dodd, Leon and Sidonie Goossens and the Beatles, and the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Of the three poets, Bob’s favourite is Roger McGough who was also a member of the pop/poetry trio ‘The Scaffold’ for ten years and taught French at St. Kevin’s Comprehensive School in Liverpool. The poems were well chosen to engage everyone. We could all relate to the person whose day went from ‘One Thing to Another.’ Teachers could empathise with the colleague who may have over- reacted to the chaos during ‘The Lesson,’ and with ‘A Real Live Poet’ set in front of an apathetic class by an unimaginative headmaster. On the way, we heard from a blameless ‘Bull in a China Shop’ and listened sympathetically to a frustrated wearer of ‘Contact Lenses.’ On a different level, the ‘Three Rusty Nails’ presented to a boy by a dirty, bearded beggar, who may have been Jewish or Egyptian, gave us something to ponder.

The poets’ interest in love was represented by Henri’s description of what ‘Love is,’ in which love sometimes sounded uncomfortable and by his account of ‘Galactic Love,’ set more warmly under the sunset and stars. Finally, in ‘So Many Lengths of Time’ we heard Patten’s thoughtful answers to Pablo Neruda’s question, ‘How long is a man’s life, finally?’, answers that included ‘A man lives for as long as we carry him inside us.’

Thank you, Bob, for sharing with us your appreciation of the wide range of the Liverpool Poets’ work, for our laughter and reflection on that evening.

Michael and Jenny Sandilands

‘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

The Gothic Revival in Art and Architecture – 7 January

Woodstock Manor

The Gothic Revival usually evokes pictures of 19th century architecture, but the movement actually originated and flourished in the 18th century. For Dr Amy Frost a key building was Woodstock Manor, in what later became the park of Blenheim Palace, whose architect, Sir John Vanbrugh, pleaded with the Duchess of Marlborough to preserve it as a picturesque ornament in the landscape. In this he was well ahead of his classical age. The picture of Woodstock brought to mind the eras of past history with knights in armour indulging in courtly love. Vanbrugh failed to save Woodstock, but built ‘King Arthur’s Castle’ at Cirencester Park (1721-32) and his own house in castle style at Greenwich (1717- c1726). Memories of King Arthur and King Alfred were called up in other monuments such as King Alfred’s Tower at Stourhead, where a nouveau riche banker could pretend to an ancient origin.

Medieval Gothic architecture evolved through the structural development of stone vaulting. The Gothic revival was about aesthetics; it was the appearance that mattered, as seen in Horace Walpole’s papier-mâché fan vaulting in his house at Strawberry Hill (1752-mid 1770s). There, the interior demonstrated the dramatic effect of sudden changes from dark to light. Walpole wrote the first Gothic novel, ‘The Castle of Otranto’, followed by many other authors. A delightful cartoon by Rowlandson, ‘Tale of Wonder’ pokes fun at a group of fashionable ladies being fascinated and frightened by the latest novels. Edmund Burke’s ‘A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful’ (1757) defined Darkness… Obscurity, … Vastness … Loudness… Suddenness … as characteristics of this new aesthetic, as opposed to the calm and comfort of the classical era.

Painters like Philip de Loutherbourg and Caspar David Friedrich with his ‘Monk by the Sea’ (1810) and ‘Wanderer above a Sea of Fog’ (1818) expressed man dwarfed by the immensity of Nature, seen again with Joseph Wright’s ‘Eruption of Vesuvius’ (c1766-80) and Turner’s ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’ (pre 1844), though here it is the image of the new mechanical era that overpowers one. The painting of the great tower of Fonthill Abby (begun 1796) overawes one with its size. The building, by James Wyatt, was not to be a mere house; its enormous hall was a monument to the middle ages and the name, ‘Abbey’, suggested an origin in one of those granted to the nobility by Henry VIII.

This second period of the Gothic Revival, from Strawberry Hill to Fonthill, was followed by one in which there was a deeper understanding of Gothic architecture. In 1817 Thomas Rickman published ‘An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of Architecture in England’, based on his studies of the dates and designs of a large range of medieval buildings. It was he who named the periods of Gothic as Early English 1189-1272, Decorated 1272-1377, and Perpendicular 1377-1547. The destruction of the Houses of Parliament by fire in 1834 led to the competition for the design of its replacement, with a stipulation that it must be in either Elizabethan or Gothic style. The winning design, by Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin, conforms to this, although, looking at the long facade facing the river, one can see the regularity of a classical order. Pugin was a convert to Catholicism and believed that Gothic was the only true style of architecture. In 1836 he published ‘Contrasts: or a Parallel between the Noble Edifices of the Middle Ages and Corresonding Buildings of the Present Day’, in which he compared drawings of an imaginary medieval town, with churches, halls, convents and almshouses with a town of his own time with its mean chapels, factory chimneys, prisons and workhouses.. For him classical architecture was foreign and pagan; Gothic architecture was British and Christian. [His own house, St Marie’ Grange, is at Alderbury in Wiltshire (1835).] The battle between the styles continued through the next seventy years of the Victorian age, leaving behind the original ideas of the Gothic Revival described by Dr Frost.

Gareth Slater

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

Johnny Cash in San Quentin — 5 November 2017

Sign of California State Prison, San Quentin

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Michael Darlow began his talk to a large and attentive audience with these words of Dostoevsky, and immediately we were made aware of the strong moral sense which underpins so much of Michael’s work.

Johnny Cash had already given concerts in several US prisons, including San Quentin, when Michael was commissioned by Granada in 1969 to make his now-famous film. He prepared the ground by flying out to California, first to get agreement from the governor, and then to meet the leaders of the 10 main prison gangs. They agreed to guarantee the safety of Michael and his crew – in return for ring-side seats at the performance. The deal was very necessary in this most notorious and violent of prisons, with 3,000 inmates.

We watched several excerpts from the film, including the song specially written for that concert which expresses the hatred of the prisoner for the jail – “San Quentin you’ve been livin’ hell to me.” The fervent and raucous response to this looked terrifying, and the guards said that, had a riot broken out, they could not have stopped it.

The concert excerpts were inter-cut with film of the prison and interviews with individual prisoners. San Quentin has the largest death-row in any US prison and a description of the use of the gas-chamber by one of the officers was both disturbing and – in its matter-of-fact delivery – quite unnerving.

The abolition of the death penalty in the UK had only happened four years previously, and Michael and his team were determined that British viewers should make this connection. So it was that, when Granada insisted on taking out the section on the gas-chamber, Michael and others refused to let their names be on the credits of the film. In fact, part of the sequence was left in the final edit and remains as a powerful witness to the inhumanity of capital punishment.

At the end of a most thought-provoking and disturbing evening, one could not help but consider what Guantanamo Bay says about, in Dostoevsky’s words “the degree of civilisation” in the US today.

Megan Jones

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