The Royal Academy: Antony Gormley & Dame Laura Knight


Body and Fruit by Anthony Gormley

A comprehensive show of work by this internationally renowned British sculptor, which explored his unswerving obsession with the human body as – “A place of experience, emotion, consciousness, memory and imagination”.
This remarkable exhibition provided a detailed insight into Gormley’s output over very nearly 40 years, testing the iconic display space of the RA to its very limits. One associates his work very much with bronze or lead casting – and there was plenty in evidence here, but also the use of more unusual materials including linseed oil, blood, rabbit skin glue, crude oil, carved blackstone – and water!… Gallons of saltwater sitting on top of a ‘sea bed of clay’ as an installation in Gallery XIII; as he puts it – “a kind of primordial soup of matter, space and time.

In the Courtyard approach to the RA the smallest ever installation used here – Iron Baby, 1999 – sets the scene. One then moved, pretty speedily, from the diminutive to the enormous.

Clearing (7), 2019, in Gallery III, was an installation seemingly consisting of miles of aluminium tubing, filling the larger of the Weston Rooms from floor to ceiling, with the viewer left to pick his or her way through it.

Matrix (3), 2019, was an extraordinary, suspended piece consisting of six tonnes of 6mm mild steel reinforcing mesh, creating a form where 21 ‘cages’ appear to intersect; the whole held rigid by hundreds of thousands of spot welds, all done by hand! The entire construction only made possible by reinforcing the ceiling of Gallery V, the largest within Burlington House, with steel bars.

Cave, 2019 was a unique sculpture on an architectural scale. Seemingly little more than a jumble of cuboid structures but in fact forming a hollow human form, crouched on its side. The viewing public were encouraged to walk though it, enjoying an acoustic experience, while literally feeling their way through the darkness…

Contrasting work that really caught the eye was Mother’s Pride (5), first created in 1982. Certainly I recall seeing it in another London viewing space, in its original incarnation: 43 slices of sliced white bread, preserved by immersion in liquid paraffin wax, with the cut out (or, should it be the ‘bitten out’) shape of a human being, in foetal posture, removed from its centre. Each slice of bread, whole or partial, had to be individually attached to the gallery wall.

So, one surprise installation after another. All serving to remind us that this is a man who works harmoniously with the Earth (and its elements), fire (his foundry processes) and water (the source of life – with Another Place, 1997, his permanent installation on Crosby Beach perhaps his defining work). Fascinating – and, with a number of the galleries literally providing an immersive experience, certainly rather different from the West End norm!


Dawn by Laura Knight

This small but delightful (and free!) exhibition was an unexpected bonus to a day largely spent in Burlington House.

Laura Knight, noted as being the first woman elected to full membership of the RA in 1936, was known for painting amidst the world of the theatre and ballet in London, and often managed to work unobtrusively in ballet dancers’ dressing rooms (…an opportunity, understandably, rarely afforded to Degas!). She was one of very few women employed as a war artist during the Second World War; specifically to make a record of the Nuremburg Trials; images which form a unique archive in themselves. She was also greatly interested in, and inspired by, marginalised communities and individuals, including gypsies and circus performers. An echo here of Alfred Munnings, with whom she was well acquainted from her time in Cornwall, having joined the Newlyn Artists’ Colony in 1907.

Showing in this little exhibition were a selection of sketch books, always a valuable extra in giving a real insight into what really motivates, and often preoccupies, an artist. Working in pen and ink, pencil or black chalk, Laura Knight’s collection all portray a confidence and an un-erring economy of line. Her sketches of Mousehole and the lovely drawing of Ella Naper in the Apple Orchard at Trewoolfe, c.1916, particularly caught the eye.
Anecdotally, she had been excluded from nude figure drawing classes during her time at Nottingham Art School and it was only in her thirties, once established in Cornwall, that her obvious talent for depicting the nude figure finally flourished. Dawn, 1932-33 (oil on canvas), on show here, underlines her confidence in taking on this genre; a truly magnificent work.

Bob Williams

Buscot and Cirencester – 5 September

Thank you Judy and David for organising this trip to the National Trust property and it was really sad that Judy was unwell on the day and unable to come as we had a great day.

The first stop at Cirencester gave us the opportunity to look round the town centre, do some shopping, have a coffee and visit the wonderful parish church. This is a real gem with its fine fan vaulting, remains of wall paintings, the Anne Boleyn Cup, and it is all so beautifully kept. There was an added bonus of a painting exhibition of works by local artists.

The weather was perfect and we enjoyed the drive through the Cotswolds to Buscot Park. There is something special about a property where the family actually live; it has a different feel. Lord Farington maintains and develops the house and garden to a high standard. Everything looks so cared for and new features and artefacts continue to be added.
Items from the Farington Collection are displayed in the rooms, staircase and passages. Some rooms are imposing and others almost cosy and the view of the grounds from the house is stunning.

Good information boards allow visitors to take their time on a self guided tour. The luxurious wall coverings, the chandeliers, the furniture and the ceramics are magnificent. For me, the collection of art works was almost unbelievable. Pictures by Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Rubens, Gainsborough, Botticelli to name a few, and Burne Jones’s series illustrating the Legend of Briar Rose were just some of the collection. That was the house, and the grounds are equally impressive and beautifully kept. There are views in all directions, fountains, statues, a delightful walled garden with espalier fruit trees, roses, borders with vegetables inter-planted among the flowers and plenty of seating. Harold Peto’s water
garden is another highlight. Interesting, if slightly incongruous are seventeen replica terra cotta warriors. (see picture)

Consulting the website, I realise how much that I didn’t manage to see and am determined to revisit so that I can do the park and garden justice.

Claire Osgood

Quenington – 2 July

Swing Bridge at Quenington

Quenington, a quintessentially Cotswold village, exemplified by its vernacular architecture constructed in honey coloured oolite Jurassic limestone with a precisely manicured and precious appearance, is situated about ten miles east of Cirencester. We drove there in balmy weather, from Bradford towards Holt and then due north on the A350, around Chippenham, over the M4, passed the jumbo jet mortuary at Kemble, passed Malmesbury and on from Cirencester.

Two Gulls at QueningtonOur exact destination in Quenington, a straggling village, was the Old Rectory built alongside a parallel wide mill leet and the river Coln, one of the delightful streams running south east from the Cotswolds into the Thames. Here in its generous grounds, for the past fourteen years, Lucy and David Abel have put on ‘ Fresh Air Sculpture ‘ an exhibition of contemporary works which are for sale. They also provide educational activities and workshops for both children and adults, run by artists. This year there were over one hundred and fifty pieces displayed and, although not generally to my taste, there were some very striking items in the array of craft work, using textiles, wood, metal, glass and ceramics. There was an air of tranquillity pervading the place, enhanced by the presence of water, hot summer sounds and the provision of refreshment.

My immediate attention was drawn to two of the permanent displays, a triple fountain in the leet by Alison Berman erected two years ago and the swing bridge across the same stretch of water which reminded me of Van Gogh’s paintings of the ‘ Pont de Langlois ‘ over the canal at Arles. From there on I was intrigued by Derek Elliot’s ‘Puck Seat ‘ inspired by Japanese timber houses and the Arts and Crafts works of Ernest Gimson,’ Wildcarrot Stems ‘ by Ruth Moillet, a representation of umbellifers in stainless steel with flower heads of yellow anodised aluminium, a lovely maquette in chiselled oak of an elderly couple called ‘ Til Death Us Do Part ‘ by Simon Conolly, a pair of sculptural benches by Waywood Furniture Creation and a ground level piece, mostly in chicken wire, by Henrietta Bud called ‘ Colouring the Grass Orange ‘. There were a considerable number of other bizarre creations. One final joy was the circular library designed by Michael Gold in 2008. It was a long walk back up hill to the coach, which was somewhat surprisingly parked with others on the beautiful triangular village green.

By now it was 13.30 pm and the final destination north to Stow on the Wold was south initially via Fairford and Lechlade rather than through Bibury, where Bob, our coach driver, informed me that there was a weight restriction on the bridge over the Coln. The last part of the journey from Burford to the Fosse Way was spectacular, with hedged fields of ripening corn and swathes of poppies, much more abundant than normal, and flax. Stow on the Wold is peculiarly sited at the side of the Roman Road, so you have to turn off it to get into the town, which has a large market place, many antique shops and charity outlets together with the usual Estate Agents and Public Houses. It was the ideal place to break, gather thoughts and imbibe much needed refreshment. There was also a distinct air of opulence about it.

The return journey in one hop was initially down the Fosse Way, fosse meaning ditch. A ruler drawn Roman Road between Exeter and Lincoln passed uninterruptedly by and the memory of the whole day was nothing by pleasant. Well done Claire.

Ian Stevenson

Exbury Gardens  – 8 May

Though I have visited many gardens, Exbury was unknown to me until its Coach Outing listing. So without any expectations, the two hour journey south east from Bradford, which started in rain and murkiness, pleasingly ended up in sunshine and sheer delight. The two hundred acre woodland garden, one of the large Rothschild family’s numerous bolt holes, forming part of the New Forest National Park, near Beaulieu, was an enthralling experience.

I had decided to ignore the narrow gauge railway and the Four Seasons Art Exhibition, but, with everybody making a bee line for Mr Eddy’s Tea Room, armed with a camera plunged directly into the hidden delights of nature. The almost immediate impression was one of wonder and delight, with the original forest of magnificent oaks, beeches, pines, cedars and chestnuts, being very sensitively manipulated to create breathtaking vistas, glades, meadows and water features at the same time being under planted with maples, magnolias and then smaller rhododendrons, azeleas ( twelve hundred new varieties of which have been raised at the garden ) at their peak in May with white, peach, apricot, orange and gold-coloured flowers. Swathes of daffodils were all but over but there were bluebells, bugles, umbellifers, ferns, irises, gunneras and surprisingly vast areas of ground covering grasses and mosses. The sound of the first cuckoo of Spring could be heard in the distance.

It was surprising to find a long way south on the river a memorial for the naval crews who had lost their lives at Arromanche.  Having stood on Gold Beach eighteen months before it reminded me of listening at school to Alvar Lidell announcing the D Day landings on the 6 June 1944.

Although extremely tired, having to leave was a wrench.

Words and photographs: Ian Stevenson

Bob Williams: The Methodist Modern Art Collection – 5 May

Bob began his talk by reminding us that, throughout its history, the Christian Church has used images to express faith and to explore theology. The Methodist Church takes its place in this long tradition with a collection now comprising 54 paintings, prints, drawings, relief and mosaic works. Until recently, these works of art have been stored at Oxford Brookes University, and they are a touring collection, travelling widely to galleries, cathedrals, churches and schools.

The Collection includes leading names from the British art world of the last 100 years, such as Edward Burra, Elisabeth Frink, Patrick Heron and Graham Sutherland, and is still expanding, acquisitions chiefly funded by gifts and charitable donations.

Bob showed us a selection of remarkable artwork, some pieces full of complex symbolism, some strikingly simple. A favourite with many viewers when the Collection is exhibited is Dalit Madonna by Jyoti Sahi (pictured) .The image in the painting echoes the Indian folk symbol of the grinding stone, found in every traditional home.  This has two parts. The larger “Mother Stone” is fixed and stable, whilst the smaller “Baby Stone” moves to grind food stuffs on the Mother Stone. Here the two stones represent Mary and the Christ child.

A painting which I found particularly striking was Maggi Hambling’s Good Friday: Walking on Water. It showed a turbulent, surging seascape, with a tiny haloed figure just discernible above the surf.

Bob gave us a fascinating presentation, with much food for thought.

Megan Jones

Oxford – 27 March

Botanic Gardens (photo Lewis Clarke)

Another highly successful trip to Oxford.

On a beautiful Spring morning our new 57 seater coach arrived, the largest we have ever used because the trip was quickly fully booked and had a long waiting list. So we were able to accommodate 7 extra people.

Another first: on discovering that it was Judy Lanteigne’s birthday she was treated to a full throated rendition of “Happy Birthday” from the coachload of people! Judy is a new and valued member of the visits committee. Others interested in being on the committee and/or leading trips would be most welcome. Please contact one of the full committee members.

One reason for the popularity of Oxford is the diverse range of places of interest. At the end of the day I discovered that everyone had enjoyed the day in numerous different ways. Many had found that using the internet beforehand meant that they had been able to plan ahead to decide the use of their time.

Two popular locations visited were the Botanic Garden (the oldest in the UK, founded in 1612) and the Pitt Rivers museum.

The Garden was beautiful and shown at its springtime best by the sunshine and blue skies. The show of spring flowers and early blossom was magnificent. The variety of plants, shrubs and trees was amazing. Many found the stunning, huge magnolia tree in full bloom to be the highlight. It was also interesting to see the burgeoning growth of the plants and shrubs that will soon be in full colour and evidence of the careful planting and redesigning being undertaken by the gardeners. The unobtrusively placed labels gave useful information to those interested in discovering the names of new plans and shrubs. Every part of the Garden is meticulously maintained. A wonderful place in which to spend time.

The Pitt Rivers museum is a staggering collection of over 55,000 artefacts from around the world telling the story of life on earth. It also houses over 600, 000 objects, photographs and manuscripts from almost every country in the world. The information boards around the museum are expertly organised and provide lucid information. Impossible to take in everything in one day and is best approached by choosing segments to study in one visit. One of our members went there first thing in the morning for a couple of hours. After a lunch there and a guided tour in the afternoon he spent the whole day in the museum. His plan to visit the special exhibition in the Ashmolean museum had to be aborted! A similar tale came from a member who so enjoyed the Botanic Garden that she spent almost all of her time there.

Others spent their day in different ways, for instance taking guided walking tours, an open top bus tour, the Museum of the History of Science, the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments etc. Others spent a happy day at leisure meeting friends in Oxford.

Little wonder that many of those on this trip requested that we include another trip to Oxford in our future plans. Those who enjoyed the Botanic Garden specifically asked that a future visit might be organised for a summer month to catch a different aspect of the Garden.

David Beniston

John Salvat: The History of Walled Gardens – March 3

50+ people turned up on a wet stormy night to listen to John’s talk on walled gardens, starting with basic rectangular ones from thousands of years ago in Africa depicted on carved clay tiles. By 3000BC images of grapes being trained on trellis exist together with fishponds, small beds bisected by paths and rills of water enclosed by walls to keep animals at bay.

When the Romans came to Britain, bringing with them onions, asparagus, turnips, radishes, figs, cherries and more, they too enclosed their gardens as did the monasteries with their box-enclosed beds full of vegetables and herbs grown for medical purposes. Their illustrated manuscripts show tools and pruning techniques still recognisable today.

By the reign of Elizabeth 1, an admirer of gardens, people like Robert Dudley at Kenilworth and the nobility had become competitive, out to impress, vying with each other in complexity of design. A century later Joseph Banks brought home thousands of new specimens from his travels with Darwin, and Parkinson brought botanical prints to the fore.

The Victorians went further, building walls heated by flues and later hot water pipes. The garden became the fruit and vegetable stall of today’s supermarkets.

Then came the First World War. The men from these estates went to France. An era ended until the 1980s when the TV programme The Walled Victorian Garden was shown. Tim Smith restored the Lost Garden at Heligan and our romance with the walled garden was rekindled.

Sue Andrew

Heale House and Salisbury – 16 February

Heale House

We left Bradford on Avon with a full coach on a slightly dull morning. How many members on the coach had heard of Heale House I wondered?  It lies 4 miles north of Salisbury near Upper Woodford on a tributary of the Hampshire/Salisbury Avon.  It is private house and is not open to the public.  However, the history is interesting.  It was built in the latter half of the 16th century by Sir William Greene and had many owners until it was purchased by Hon. Louis Greville in l894, a great Uncle of the present owners, the Rasch family.

In 1651 Charles II secretly took refuge there for six nights after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester while waiting for a ship to carry him to France.

We had two hours to walk around the garden and have a coffee in the small restaurant.

There are eight acres and it was designed in 1910 by Harold Peto and  planted to provide colour throughout the year.  Our visit, of course, was arranged to see the carpets of snowdrops which covered the grounds and the banks of the river, and they were absolutely spectacular.  A vision of white spread before us wherever we went.

Louis Greville was in the diplomatic service and acquired a bridge and authentic tea house on his travels to Japan to form the basis of his new Arts and Crafts style garden.

Then it was onwards to Salisbury for the afternoon.   So much to see there, it was difficult to choose what to do in a few hours, from the mine of information provided by our organiser. I knew I wanted to visit one of the music shops, having lost our two in Bath, and I had been to the Cathedral a few times and seen the magnificent Magna Carta in the Chapter House (The Chapter House is, or was, used for the administration of the monastery or cathedral).

The Museum had an “Celebration of Art” exhibition and these were pieces of art purchased by a Heritage Lottery Fund project to celebrate the work of Wiltshire’s creative people. They consisted of paintings, sculptures, pottery and printing. All very varied and with lots of great talent displayed.

Walking through the Cathedral Close is seeing history unfold, and there is a small book in the museum shop which explains the history of all the houses, and what caught my eye was a memorial to three Protestant martyrs who were burnt at the stake in 1556.

On the way home an appeal was made for “Guest organisers” for a one off event.    This could also be couple of friends, partners, etc.  If we are to continue to have these wonderful outings, and they are certainly popular, there has to be an organiser, so do think about volunteering so that we can continue to enjoy these events to wonderful places.

Joyce Shaw

London – 20 November 2018

God image, probably Ku the God of War, late 18th century

ANGLO-SAXON KINGDOMS – ‘Barbaric splendour and fierce vision’…..

This was a blockbuster exhibition at the British Library on Euston Rd., a show where the real and the supernatural seemed to readily intertwine.

The Germanic peoples who invaded Britain after the departure of the Romans, in AD 410, pushed the native Celts westwards deep into what was to become Wales. The culture of these invaders included the introduction of serpentine images (… a Sutton Hoo belt buckle….. there a writhing image leaping off the page of the Northumbrian Gospels). One manuscript on show was the earliest surviving text of the poem Beowulf – a Scandinavian hero. When the Angles and Saxons first came to Britain they brought with them a pantheon of gods they shared with the Vikings and fellow Germans. There was an image on view of Woden, King of the gods – part German Wotan and part Viking Odin. The adoption of Christianity added yet another layer of pan-European culture. Perhaps the most striking exhibit was (the loan of) the Codex Amiatinus, the oldest surviving complete Latin bible, created in N.E. England and gifted to the Pope in 716 and returning to these shores for the first time in 1,300 years.

OCEANIA at the Royal Academy

God image, probably Ku the God of War, late 18th centuryIt was 250 years ago that James Cook embarked on the first of his three voyages of discovery to the S. Hemisphere, essentially to explore the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean. The Oceania exhibition highlights the diverse and remarkably sophisticated societies that Cook encountered, and brought together some of the treasures from a civilization very different from our own.

There was a rich vein of craftsmanship and design on show in this first ever survey of Oceanic art held in Britain; an exhibition that proved immensely popular with the viewing public. Covering a third of the World’s surface, the area is best recognised by a subdivision into three distinct island groups – Polynesia (literally many islands), Melanesia (black islands) and Micronesia (small islands). Papua New Guinea, by far the largest of the islands represented, not surprisingly, seemed to contribute the greatest number of artefacts on show. Canoes, often highly ornate with elaborate carved prows and, to the indigenous population, imbued with a spiritual energy and power, were an important status symbol. Different designs served differing purposes – for fishing, engaging in warlike activities and for inter-island communication. The culture of these islanders was strongly reflected in this show through ancestor sculptures, elaborate masks, dance shields, ceremonial clubs and personal adornments.

Such contact with Europeans, as Cook first initiated, brought with it harsh colonial rule and exposure to diseases to which there was no natural resistance. Today’s great threat, also largely a legacy of the west, is climate change, resulting in rising sea levels and the almost certain need to abandon some of the low-lying archipelagos.

Bob Williams

Tyntesfield – 11 December 2018

Photo: interior of Tyntesfield chapel

The traffic flowed and we arrived around 10.30 am, driving down through a double avenue of lime and golden yew decorated with bright red Christmassy bows, and there was plenty of time to sample the goodies in the Cow Barn.

From 1844 – 2001 this was the country home for four generations of the Gibbs family, their bolthole from London. Originally purchased by William Gibb it was transformed in 1864 by his engaging John Norton to redesign and rebuild, the result being a home in High Victorian Gothic.

William’s grandson George became the first Lord Wraxall in 1928 and his son Richard, who never married, had an army career. On his death in 2001 his will named NINETEEN beneficiaries so the property was sold, and that is why we could use our National Trust cards.

There are Gentlemen’s Rooms and Ladies’ Rooms and a Boudoir for the Lady of the House with exquisite boxwood carvings of nature. The Hall, where guests were greeted, was re-designed in 1889 by Henry Woodyear, the imposing staircase being intended to impress the local gentry. The top grade Library holds around 2000 books but was also used as a family Sitting Room.

The Gibbs were supporters of the High Church Oxford Movement so that religion was the focal point of their lives, and before the Chapel was built prayers were said in the Organ Room. The Drawing Room is the grandest, forty feet long, but regrettably the blinds were all down during our visit and in the dim light we could not fully appreciate the colours of the decor.

The Chapel was commenced at the end of William’s life, a superb copy of the mediaeval Sainte Chapelle in Paris, and some of us took part in the Nativity service. Founded during the hey-day of Victorian plant collecting, the Arboretum was called by the family “Paradise Garden”, a quiet, peaceful place with meandering pathways. The parkland is a delight to walk through and we were lucky enough to keep dry.

There was a degree of differing opinions on the Christmas decorations, but no -one disagreed about the superb restoration work carried out by the National Trust to preserve this remarkable home. The Gibbs were true Christians: and their money also ensured the well-being of those who worked for them.

Our thanks to Claire for another “Grand Day Out”.

Pam Bemment

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