Thursday, 1 October 2015

October in Somerset

"Outside in the parks and playgrounds around the parish, it's the local children's favourite time of year. The leaves of the horse-chestnut trees are turning an orangey-brown, and beneath every one is a treasure trove of spiky green balls, each beginning to split open to reveal the dark shiny fruit within.  Is there any natural object as instantly alluring as the conker?  Nothing else has quite the same appeal, and even now, more than forty years after I picked one up as a small child, I still get the same thrill each year when I find the first polished conker of the season."

Wild Hares and Hummingbirds  Stephen Moss

[Like seashells fresh from the beach, the shiny conkers fade when brought home, but the tree summer blossoms are still celebrated on Chestnut Sunday in May, with processions along the Chestnut Avenue in Bushy Park, across from Hampton Court Palace.]

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The power of drawing

This lovely drawing is by Jehan (John) Daly, whose biography and some other intriguing artist's studio drawings I found on the Liss Llewellyn Fine Art website.  Daly was a close friend of John Stanton Ward, but for me he also links two artists I admire:  Gilbert Spencer, who taught  (or rather allowed him to follow his own path) at the Royal College of Art, and John Sergeant, another Welsh artist and masterly draughtsman.

Bathroom at Erdigg  John Sergeant  1987
National Trust Collection

[Footnote:  James Russell has recently highlighted Fay Ballard's quiet drawings in his blog,  which you may also enjoy.]

Saturday, 19 September 2015

"Accidentally, on purpose"

This useful and expressive phrase goes back several centuries, and is particularly pertinent when faced with entrenched bureaucracy.  Thus, Sylvester Brounower writes to John Locke with news from London in 1697.

John Locke , plumbago drawing by Sylvester Brounower (Locke's amanuensis) c. 1685
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Whitehall April the 24th: 1697   

"Mrs Smithsby…presents her service to you and would be glad to see you [Locke] in Town again, as some in our Office [the Dept of Trade and Plantations] do, she has been served just as we are, for her Petition and the King's reference upon it; and Our Establishment with the King's reference upon it, are both, accidentally, on purpose, lost in the Treasury."

(Mrs Smithsby had petitioned for 12 years' arrears of a pension originally granted to her father and her petition was referred to the Surveyor-General of Crown Lands in July 1696.  See Correspondence footnote.)

The Correspondence of John Locke  ed. E. S. de Beer   © Oxford University Press

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

September in Somerset

A robin calls loudly from a hawthorn hedge; and above it on the topmost sprig, perches a plump buffish-orange bird, a wheatear.  This is unfamiliar territory: the closest place where wheatears breed is Exmoor or Salisbury Plain, though this bird could have come from as far afield as Scandinavia.

2 Northern Wheatears   Henrik Gronvald c. 1907-09

The wheatear may be the robins' cousin, but there is little love lost between them,  Having established his autumn territory along this hedgerow, the robin is not prepared to tolerate any intruder, however far it might have travelled.  So when the wheatear flies down onto the stony track the robin follows, uttering a peevish warning call, in an attempt to see off the newcomer.  But the wheatear takes no notice, running in short bursts along the track on long, rangy legs, and occasionally stopping to pick up a morsel of insect food, before flying up to another perch.

As I get closer, the bird's fresh plumage and confiding nature suggest that this is a juvenile, probably only three or four months old. I appreciate the subtle pale, yellowish-buff of its belly shading darker on the upper breast, the jet-black tail, and as it flies  a few yards along the path, the snow-white rump which gives the bird its name.  For 'wheatear' has absolutely nothing to do with ears of wheat, but derives instead from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning 'white arse'."

Wild Hares and Hummingbirds  Stephen Moss

Saturday, 5 September 2015

A station on the Rake's Progress

I like going to exhibitions where the paintings and objects  speak to each other in surprising ways, and the exhibition of Grayson Perry's  " Rake's Progress" tapestries  (The Vanity of Small Differences)  at Temple Newsam House this summer is a clear case in point.

      The Agony in the Carpark  © Grayson Perry 2012

This  tapestry picked up the blue stripes of the period wallpaper against which it was hung, and its images were  reflected in the rococo overmantel mirror.  A new context adding to the debate.

The tapestries looked very different from their earlier showing at the Foundling Museum in London where they were hung together in art gallery style and spoke to each other in close-up detail.  Elsewhere there was a showing of Yinko Shonibare's work,  again on the Hogarthian Rake theme, but rather cramped in their space for real impact.
And don't miss the Foundling Museum's lovely cafe, food for mind and body.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

"In a Persian Garden"

The popular song cycle "In a Persian Garden" was composed by Liza Lehmann in 1896, taking lyrics from Edward Fitzgerald's translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
"Paradise" is derived from the Old Iranian word "pairidaeza", meaning park or enclosure, a 'garden oasis' to be enjoyed, as in this Safavid miniature, alone:

The hoopoe brings King Solomon's message to Bilqis, Queen of Sheba  
Iran, c.1590-1600  © Trustees of the British Museum

or in these Iranian tile panels, in company:

Wall panels from the royal garden pavilions of the Chahar Bagh, Isfahan  1600-1625
(the men with hats are probably European merchants) 
© Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

A contemporary large tile panel can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum, showing similar interchangeable figures and patterns and Chinese derived cloud border.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

A garden in Bruges

Virgin and Child, with Saints Catherine and Barbara,  and Mary Magdalene, and Donor   
Gerard David 1510  © National Gallery, London

The large-scale meditative figures dominate this painting, posed against the Italian silk and gold damask hanging which frames the Virgin and Child, and the buildings of Bruges behind.  The walled garden (the hortus conclusus),  the potent medieval image of Mary's virginity, seems to fade into the background in this 'modern' Renaissance painting; only the sharp horizontal line of the wall as it  links  the saints' heads reinforces this concept of the holy enclosed garden.