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 (…..here 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

Mary Shelley: Frankenstein at 200 — 4 November

Boris Karloff as 'the creature' (1931)

A large audience testified both to Allan Phillipson’s popularity as a speaker and perhaps also to our perennial fascination with Mary Shelley’s iconic “creature.” Allan began by illustrating the phenomenon of the Gothic novel, a genre both horrific and salacious and one which would later be satirised, for example by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey.

We were reminded that Frankenstein, first published in 1818, begins and ends in a harsh landscape of ice and snow, illustrating the Romantic concept of ‘the sublime’ where the grandeur of the landscape takes us beyond ordinary experience. Of the 120 films of Frankenstein, perhaps only Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 version reflects this awe-inspiring atmosphere, and we were shown an extract, with Branagh as Victor Frankenstein scaling a cliff of ice to meet with his creation. In this film, Robert de Niro, as the creature, is shown as capable of thoughtful and philosophical conversation. Again, this is true to the novel, where, even in isolation, the ‘monster’ learns to read Milton, Plutarch and Goethe.

We learned about Shelley’s support for his wife’s work, and shown examples of his amendments to her manuscript – usually to its detriment, it has to be said!

In fact, Allan gave us a wealth of visual material to enjoy, with clips from several films, including the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein, where Elsa Lanchester plays both Mary Shelley in the prologue and then the eponymous Bride, rejecting the advances of Boris Karloff as the creature.

If Allan were a cook, we would say that he had produced for us a rich dish with many ingredients, something to savour, relish and remember.

Megan Jones

Wiltshire Music Centre: A Programme for All — 2 September

Zone Club Performers

It would have been hard to find a more uplifting talk with which to begin our new season: a verbal behind the scenes tour of the Music Centre, from the initial idea mooted thirty years ago to the present day. Their aim remains the same – to inspire, enrich and transform people’s lives through music.

The emphasis is on excellence, staying ahead, leading the way. And this can mean being opportunistic, like seizing the chance this November to stage “Fast Forward”, a three-day national disability festival, in conjunction with Bristol Music Trust. It is normally held in the Colston Hall, now temporarily closed, so the Music Centre jumped in to stage it themselves. We, the Arts Association, are supporting this financially

Just in the last year, they took both Youth Orchestras on a short working trip to France – and, yes, the skies opened so that, at short notice, an indoor venue had to be found for an outdoor event with an audience of hundreds. The newly launched Behn Quartet of young players has been awarded a residency to broaden their experience, and partnerships have been formed with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and the Bath Festival.

Alongside concerts, there are now talks, live relays, choirs for old and young alike and perhaps in the future weekend tutoring for A-level music students as numbers fall and funding is cut. Who else would do it?

Hearing James’ enthusiasm, it all sounds such fun, until you consider all the work done by staff, supporters, volunteers and young students themselves. The job of Artistic Director is not so romantic at the end of a long day with just a twenty-minute break, when you have spent hours in front of a screen, discussed contract clauses ad nauseam and fielded numerous ‘phone calls.

How lucky we are to have the Music Centre on our doorstep and have James to give up his Sunday evening for us.

One abiding memory for me – a beaming young disabled musician from Zone Club declaring that the Music Centre has changed her life.

Sue Andrew

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

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