Noble Prospects : Capability Brown and the Yorkshire Landscape

Can I really have been have jotting down notes about my travels and interspersing the notes with my photos for five years already? I’ve just been looking back at my post about Capability Brown at Harewood and am amazed to see that the date was October 2011. My first post was dated 20 August 2011. And I’m stunned to see that that was five years ago to the day! Well I never.

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Two Art Talks

Last week I went to two art talks and very interesting they were too. One was an evening reception at The Mercer Gallery in Harrogate organised by the Art Fund. The other was ‘Tea with the Curator’ at Temple Newsam House near Leeds.

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Self-portrait of Frank Holl as a young man [source]

Frank Holl : Emerging from the Shadows [Mercer Gallery, Harrogate 23 November 2013 to 30 March 2014]

‘Frank Holl (1845-1888) is one of the great painters of the Victorian period, notable for his tragic social realism as well as his penetrating portraits. Revered in his lifetime, he died young whilst at the height of his powers. His early death meant that he never fully received the acclaim that his work merited. This exhibition represents the first modern retrospective of this significant artist.’ 

I have been aware of Holl since the mid-1990s when one of my masters papers in Victorian Studies was on the subject of narrative paintings with a theme of poverty and the poor in Victorian England. The Holl picture we looked at was The Seamstresses now owned by The Royal Albert Museum in Exeter. It is on show at the Harrogate exhibition.

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Seamstresses. Frank Holl. 1875. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter.

Jane Sellars, curator of the Mercer Gallery, introduced Holl and told us more about his life and travels and spoke about each of the, perhaps 30, paintings. It was interesting to note the themes of Holl’s narrative paintings on loan from prestigious galleries around the country, including The National Portrait Gallery – soldiers off to fight in Afghanistan, sweatshops, guilty bankers – all themes that appear in the news today. So not much has changed there. Jane pointed out the “Rembrandtesque” effect in many of these paintings.

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No Tidings from the Sea. Frank Holl. 1870. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust. [source]

Even Queen Victoria bought one of his pictures No Tidings from the Sea (1870 and  in The Royal Collection). Later Holl gained commissions to paint portraits and his subjects included national figures like William Gladstone and W.S.Gilbert. The BBC ‘Your Paintings’ website shows 68 of his paintings. Jane quoted several times from his eldest daughter’s, Ada Mabel Reynolds,  1912 biography of her father. There is an accompanying book/catalogue to the show. Earlier last year the exhibition was shown at the newly refurbished Watts Gallery in Surrey. In Harrogate the pictures have been hung beautifully for ease of viewing and the lighting is excellent for all except maybe one glazed picture.

Last May on a visit to Highgate Cemetery I noticed his tomb and photographed it.

Frank Holl tomb

The Tomb of Frank Holl in Highgate Cemetery

I’m very pleased that Frank Holl is at last emerging from the shadows.

Rembrandt : etchings from the Collection of Leeds City Art Gallery [Temple Newsam House 19 November 2013 – 20 July 2014]

TNH side view

It’s very difficult to get a ‘front on’ view of Temple Newsam. The land drops away significantly from the front of the house and a wider angled camera lens is required to capture it closer up. The photo above is of the side view. Temple Newsam’s history goes back beyond the Domesday Book. Lord Darnley former husband of Mary Queen of Scots was born here in 1545.

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The Stable Courtyard makes a much better view

So, last Thursday afternoon I made my way to Temple Newsam for Tea with the Curator of the Rembrandt Etchings Display.

This season’s Winter/Spring exhibition at Temple Newsam House offers the rare chance to see a selection of prints made by the greatest printmaker the world has ever seen – Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606 – 1665). The exhibition will run for nine months and will consist of two displays; the first will examine Rembrandt’s portraits and figure studies and the second, will showcase a selection of Rembrandt’s biblical prints.

Rembrandt’s career as a printmaker ran parallel with his painting, but he rarely treated the same subject in both medium and only on a few occasions did he reproduce his paintings in print. Indeed for Rembrandt, print was a distinct art form which he pursued as actively as he did his painting; quickly learning the technical skills involved in etching Rembrandt virtually recreated this technique. His impact and contribution to printmaking is unprecedented and is so significant that it is still reflected in etchings produced today.

Rembrandt poster
Portraits and People, 19th November 2013 – 30th March 2014
Bringing together Rembrandt’s prints of people the first half to this exhibition will focus on his early experimental prints in which Rembrandt developed both his technique and his interest in showing emotion and thought through detailed observations of facial expressions. Highlights include a selection of Rembrandt’s iconic self-portraits, etchings of his mother and wife Saskia and a group of Rembrandt’s prints of beggars.

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The Artist’s Mother [source]

Theodore, the curator, and I and four others assembled in the Dining Room for a friendly discussion and an opportunity to examine etching and engraving tools. The tool box and tools themselves that Theodore brought along had all been the property of Frank Brangwyn. Theodore explained the processes and their differences to us before taking us upstairs to the small but excellent display of Rembrandt etchings.

Frank Brangwyn's tools

Frank Brangwyn’s Etching Tools

The etchings themselves are small and exquisite and beautifully displayed. Magnifying glasses are supplied through which we could study the minute detail of each print.

Tes is served

Tea and cake and biscuits are served

On returning to the Dining Room for tea and cakes we had further opportunities to examine at close quarters etchings and tools and a brief slideshow of a 16th  century printmaking shop which reminded me of my visit last month to the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp.

The current etching display will be replaced next month by a further series from the 70 or so donated to the Art Gallery on the theme of Rembrandt and the Bible.

More Ghosts at Christmas : Edith in the Dark

Edith in the Dark

Celebrated children’s author Edith Nesbit escapes her annual Christmas Eve soiree and finds herself in her attic writing room with a young male guest and Biddy Thricefold, her loyal housekeeper.

The trio decide to observe the festive tradition of reading scary stories to help ward off wicked spirits, choosing the stories penned by Nesbit herself. Yet as they breathe life into these terrifying creations, all is not as it seems…

One of the people in the attic is hiding a deadly secret.

Millions have grown up with the fabled work of E Nesbit,which includes classic novels Five Children and It and The Railway Children, but she began her writing career as a mistress of horror. For the first time ever, these flesh-creeping yarns have been freely adapted for the stage.” [Source Harrogate Theatre website]

Way up on the second floor of the Harrogate Theatre (just a 20 minute train journey from home) is the intimate 50 seat Harrogate Studio Theatre. Yesterday afternoon I very much enjoyed a couple of hours in the company of the three characters playing out some of Nesbit’s ghost stories.

I had read a review in the local free paper earlier in December and was intrigued to know that Edith Nesbit, author of such children’s (and adults’) favourites as ‘The Railway Children’, ‘Five Children and It’ and ‘The Story of the Treasure Seekers’, wrote much more besides including ‘Tales of Terror’.

Edith in the dark

Here are Scott Ellis (as Mr Guasto) and Blue Merrick (as Edith) in Edith in the Dark [source]

Blue Merrick the actress who played Edith could have been EN herself. I had never heard of her but my friend recognised her as having played the registrar presiding over marriages in eleven separate episodes of Coronation Street on ITV.

From this new play I learned more about E. Nesbit’s life and the past that haunted her. She was an original member of the Fabian Society and named her son Fabian after it. Sadly he died at the age of 15 during a tonsil operation. She dedicated several of her books to this son including Five Children and It. She also seemed to feel very strongly that she did not want to be famous just through her children’s books. She was a keen socialist and defender of women’s rights.

I don’t know whether the play will transfer to other theatres but I was very glad to have spent the afternoon away from the shopping hordes again and in the company of Edith Nesbit.

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