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

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.”

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