Compton Verney tells the sometimes- tragic tale of tea from mountains to mug

Johann Zoffany, John, Fourteenth Lord Willoughby de Broke, and His Family, about 1766, Digital image © o

The summer exhibition at Compton Verney is built around the idea of the comforting cup of tea and its journey to our mugs, through time, history and continents.

The south Warwickshire gallery’s A Tea Journey: from the Mountains to the Table features historic items and new creations, some of which have quite distant connections to the theme. It also disabuses the visitor from the idea of tea as a benign comfort, showing the trails of addiction and slavery (from the inclusion of sugar to sweeten it) that came in its wake.

It illustrates well the fact that tea started out as a luxury drink, for consumption by royalty, then the very well to do, before British colonial production led to mass importation which made it the drink of the masses.

The exhibition, curated by Antonia Harrison, starts by looking at the use of the Camellia Sinensis in China centuries ago, and its discovery by westerners, including Johan Nieuhof of the Dutch East India Company who in the 1660s wrote and published on this wonder plant back home.

There are amazing survivals of ancient tea cups, with a Tang Dynasty porcelain cup from c800-900, and a tea or wine bowl with gold lacquer repairs visible from the tenth or eleventh century.

Kō Fuyō, 1772, Nine bends of the Juiquxi River in the Wuyi mountains © Ashmolean Museum, University of

On the wall, a reproduction of a Japanese hand scroll drawn in ink and coloured pens on paper from 1772 shows the Wuyi Mountains, a prolific tea producing area, and a stream running through them. A set of attractive eighteen century watercolours show the process of producing tea, including helpful monkeys bringing down branches.

In the same gallery, Phoebe Cummings – who used to work greeting visitors to Compton Verney – has a new work, called An Ugly Aside. Made from wet clay, it is a sculpture of entwined tea plants and opium poppies. It is a reference to the botanist Robert Fortune who stole tea seedlings from China to be grown in India, and to the opium trade started by the British in exchange for tea from China, which left many addicted. As the sculpture is unfired it will crumble and turn to dust as the exhibition continues.

4 Phoebe Cummings - Detail from Nocturne (clay, wire, steel) AirSpace 2016

There is also the country’s oldest sample of tea from around 1700 which has been loaded by the Natural History Museum, and was collected for Sir Hans Sloan. A lidded bowl from 1746 is decorated with a poem written by an emperor, who used to host parties where he asked his guests to compose poems – about tea.

A copy of the painting which inspired the exhibition is on show (top). The 1766 Johan Zoffany painting shows the Willoughby de Broke family, who owned Compton Verney at the time, enjoying tea together, their wealth illustrated from the silverware they are using as well as the, at the time, high end drink. The tea urn in the painting has survived the centuries to go on show nearby!

In the same gallery and throughout the exhibition, there are numerous items in many different materials on show, demonstrating the artistry which has gone into tea pots, caddies, cups, saucers, sugar bowls and tongs. The detail on some is amazing.

A further gallery looks at the shipping of sea across the world, and when the visitor walks past the model of a clipper, Thermophylae, used to bring tea from Shanghai, it sparks the reading of a poem by Selina Nwulu, Sea Change, about the harshness of working on the tea plantations, and the tea’s eventual home in Britain.

Another contemporary work features in the largest gallery, Claire Partington’s Sailor, a porcelain model of a man laying face down, with a Kraken cut into his back, referencing the loss of ships at sea and rumours of sea monsters.

There is also a recording of songs sung by fourth generation tea plantation workers in West Bengal which is moving and engrossing.

This gallery shows how tea spread through the social classes. There’s a painting c1715 of Two Ladies and an Officer seated at tea, again showing off their prized tea service, then two of Compton Verney’s own paintings, The Interior of the Rotunda Ranelagh and The Grand Walk, Vauxhall Gardens, both around 1751 and by Canaletto, showing popular pleasure gardens where people would gather and drink tea.

The lovely A Cottage Interior: An Old Woman Preparing Tea by William Redmore Bigg from 1793 shows a much poorer room and set of tea wares as the woman sits ready to use bellows on her fire to heat her water.

Mother of Pearl Caddy-1

A stand-out amongst the many tea items on show is the 1723 travelling tea and coffee service made by Meissen, a hefty case containing such travelling essentials as a teapot, milk jug and six cups and saucers. It is a well-painted but hefty item.

The Wedgwood Blue Jasperware three piece tea service from the nineteenth century demonstrates the move away from oriental or pastoral scenes to classical and contemporary reliefs.

Kazuhiro Yajima produced the Umbrella Tea House which has been shipped from Japan to Warwickshire for the exhibition, the architect creating the delicate room based on the idea of how an umbrella is made, with the space providing a moment to be shared.

There are further contemporary pottery and ceramic works, including Adam Buick’s moon jar, using a glaze made from tea leaf ash, sent to him from all over the world.

This is the end of the major part of the exhibition, and is interesting for the story it tells and how it tells it. Some of the other contemporary works shown seem to stretch a point too far, or not contribute, but overall there are a lot of attractive and fascinating items to see.

The other exhibition rooms have been turned into a Tea Sensorium, and may appeal more to youngsters. There are a selection of different types of tea to smell, a room to create a teapot design and one where people can create shapes in wet clay to add to a giant collage on the walls.

The exhibition is on until September 22.

Exhibition co-curated by George Shaw is fitting tribute to much-admired director

Per Speculum

Per Speculum, by Adrian Paci

An exhibition dedicated to the memory of an inspirational gallery curator and director who died too young brings together works by nearly 50 artists.

Michael Stanley was Director of Modern Art Oxford when he died in 2012, but had previously been a curator at Compton Verney Art Gallery in Warwickshire, and the Ikon in Birmingham and it is at the Ikon that the exhibition entitled The Aerodrome is being held.

The majority of the artists whose work is shown were personally connected with Stanley, in that he had worked with them or been responsible for exhibitions where their work was shown. There is though Study of Clouds by John Constable (1837) (below), an artist whose work he had wanted to exhibit.

Study of Clouds

The exhibition is co-curated by artists David Austen and George Shaw. George and Michael Stanley has known each other since George’s show at the Ikon in 2003, and they worked together when George curated an exhibition of Graham Sutherland works at Modern Art Oxford, An Unfinished World, back in 2011. (Review here)

In the bar at The Aerodrome opening, George explained: “Michael Stanley had given me a book, and then I mentioned the book to David Austin and then David read it much more closely than I did.”

The book was The Aerodrome, written by Rex Warner in 1941, and which had made a great impression on Michael Stanley. The Ikon describes it as “an allegorical novel whose young hero is faced with the disintegration of certainties about his loved ones and with a choice between the earthy, animalistic life of his home village and the pure, efficient, emotionally detached life of an airman. Its dystopian vision was very influential on writers such as Orwell, Burgess and Ballard.”

From The Passion New Red Starr

Scenes from the Passion; The New Red Starr, by George Shaw

David found links in it between how Michael created exhibitions, and with things they were all interested in including English modernism, the post-war period, works of writers such as Auden, and Catholicism. George said he liked the religious imagery, relationships, and the fact that it wasn’t class-based but looked at the country from different sides.

“The nearest thing to it is the comparison with Brexit now”, he said.

“I found the Englishness and the attitude to modernity really intriguing and it mirrors up with my own inability to deal with the contemporary.”

The idea of an exhibition came up a long time ago: “We were thinking back through the history of Michael’s career as a curator and not forcing it into an agenda, but once we’d started it fitted very neatly and naturally together. It was a way of looking at a lifetime of a person’s career through the prism of one particular book.”

The exhibition they have created spreads through three floors of the Ikon and the Tower Room and contains a lot of varied art.

One of the first works on the first floor is Chair Falling, a Super 8 film by Michael Stanley from 1995, presumably from his degree show.

Fallen Man

There is a painting by George Shaw, Scenes from the Passion: The New Red Starr, a still-standing but lost looking pub. David Austen’s contribution is Fallen Man (above), an image of a man gone so far forward his head has disappeared.

Preserve Beauty

 

Anya Gallacio’s Preserve Beauty, 1991-2003, (above)  is an installation of beautiful but fading flowers behind glass.

There is a Graham Sutherland drawing of Cornstack in Landscape from 1945-6, to mark the exhibition George Shaw curated at Oxford.

A subtle and attractive Paul Nash drawing, Nostalgic Landscape, from 1925 (below) also features.

Nostalgic Landscape

Adrian Paci’s Per Speculum, a six minute film, features scary youngsters, unnerving stares and a mix of reality and mirrors.

Jenny Saville held her first solo exhibition at Modern Art Oxford in 2012 (review) but is showing a work from this year, Portrait of Lola, a graphite drawing of a woman.

The Tower Room has been filled with a huge amount of salt, in an installation by Linder Sterling called Salt Shrine 2007/19. It was originally commissioned by Michael Stanley and created with 40 tons of salt to be placed in the RE classroom of his high school the week before the school was demolished. It apparently features the same crucifix as in the original installation.

I hope he would appreciate that touch, and the effort, commitment and thought that has gone into creating this exhibition which should draw more people in to appreciate the artists he valued.

The exhibition continues until September 8.

The joys and tragedies of childhood are captured on canvas over centuries

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Fleeting moments captured in time make up the opening exhibition of this year at Compton Verney art gallery in south Warwickshire.

Painting Childhood: from Holbein to Freud, and Childhood Now are two linked exhibitions, featuring what curator Dr Amy Orrock believes is the first exhibition on the subject to cover 500 years of works.

The starting point for the exhibition was three paintings in Compton Verney’s own collection, but these have been augmented with many loans, including 22 from the Royal Collection, the first time they have been shown in an exhibition about childhood. They do of course show higher-class children, and they remain the focus for most of the exhibition – not surprisingly ‘real’ poor children seem to rarely have been painted.

The exhibition starts with images from the time of the renaissance, when intimate sketches of babies and infants were generally made to help in the creation of religious paintings, their faces becoming that of Jesus or the infant St John the Baptist. There is a drawing by Francesco Salviati, Study of a Child, dating back to around 1500.

The next section on Royal Portraits looks at how status can be conveyed through the body of a child, and shows how iconography was often used. The children are also of course usually dressed in the richest type of clothes.

One of Compton Verney’s own paintings, Edward VI by Guillim Scrots, from 1550 (top), shows the young king holding a flower, while other flowers turn away from the sun and towards him instead, showing his importance.

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The five eldest children of Charles I, by Anthony Van Dyck, from 1637 (above), shows the eldest boy with his hand draped casually on the head of a big dog, showing his future status and power to subdue all he wants.

There is a separate practice image of two girls from the right of this portrait, but tragically, as in quite a few of the paintings of children at this time, they weren’t to have long lives so are captured here at their best. Princess Elizabeth lived to be 15, and Princess Anne just three.

Dr Orrock said that paintings of children became more sentimental as time went on, as the painting Victoria, Princess Royal, with Eos, by Edwin Landseer shows. The baby is pictured with the loyal dog draped across her cot, and watched over by a dove. Queen Victoria and Albert made many delightful casual drawings of their own children, and a number are on show here, depicting a baby crawling after a ball, being bottle fed and other normal activities.

The exhibition continues into a section on Playing and Growing, showing children with toys or pets. Not all are joyful though, in an era with high mortality rates for children.

The Graham Children by Hogarth shows the lovely family, with a musical box, and a cat eyeing the bird. By the time it was finished in 1742 the youngest child had died. It is significant that the child is in a wheeled chair, on the way to the afterlife, and a cupid with a scythe is placed on a clock.

Jan Steen’s A School for Boys and Girls, 1670, is a rare image here showing a lower class of child, as two teachers supervise a class of unruly youngsters.

The themed section on Fantasy and Reality shows children being used as models for paintings. There is Gainsborough’s A Peasant Girl Gathering Faggots in a Wood from 1782, featuring a child acting out the poor scene, and little Penelope Boothby in Reynolds’s oil of 1788 showing the girl in a cute costume which went on to become a fancy dress outfit for decades. Perhaps the most famous of this section was John Everett Millais’s Bubbles from 1886, showing the child looking wistfully up at bubbles floating above his head; it was later used in a Pears Soap Advert.

The gallery on Family Life brings the works in to the twentieth century, showing artists’ children as their own models. Bonnard’s The Evening Meal of 1903 shows the family sitting down to their food, painted as though from another room glimpsing in to the peaceful scene. Camille Pissarro’s Jeanne Holding a Fan of 1863 is sadder, the girl slumped forward, not looking well, and she later died. Louise Borgeois’s etching shows the woman looking pained as she gives birth to her equally-sized child, as the artist tried to show the struggles of being a mother and an artist.

Lucian Freud’s Annabel from 1967 captures the girl reaching teenage years, looking pensive in a chair.

To complete the focus on childhood, there’s a further exhibition of works by three contemporary artists, Childhood Now. Matthew Krishanu spent a significant part of his childhood in Bangladesh and India and paints images of what he calls the two boys, him and his brother, from photos of that time. In Limbs they are up a tree, their legs mirroring its branches, and in other works they swim and climb on rocks.

Mark Fairnington paints his own twin sons as they grow up, their skin spookily white and their red hair a startling contrast. In many they look very similar but there’s always a difference, whether in hair style, or bruises on their legs.

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Chantal Joffe has painted her daughter Esme since her birth, and they are often shown together too, as in Self portrait combing Esme’s hair. The girl is also seen playing with friends, and growing into the lanky girl now watching TV with her mum.

It’s a large and varied exhibition, with lots to see and read, which brings together interesting works in a good thematic way, and introduces three current artists whose work is also exciting to explore.

The exhibitions are on until June 16.

Green Dwelling aims to conjure up images of medieval residents

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Geese admire part of the new installation in Old Town Meadow

There’s a new development attracting attention on the hill at Compton Verney Art Gallery & Park this year.

Dutch artist Krijn de Koning was commissioned to create the installation which is the latest outdoor work at the venue near Wellesbourne, Warwickshire, encouraging people to engage with the 1779 landscape designed by Capability Brown.

Green Dwelling is made up of 24 blocks of various sizes and shades of green in Old Town Meadow. Apparently the artist was inspired by the meadow’s history. It was once the site of a medieval village, Compton Murdak, and was later planted with elm trees which were lost to Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970s.

The blocks apparently represent ancient megaliths and the designs of Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus, and are arranged with mown paths to recreate the ancient village and also create new framed vistas which Capability Brown was known for.

My attempt to get close to Green Dwelling and look at Compton Verney from it was defeated by the squelchy mud after a few days of rain; hopefully I’ll get a second chance to visit.

Below, an artist’s impression of the installation before it was built

eyecatcher drawing

All human life is pictured in glorious monochrome

Guides
There are two must-see photographic exhibitions on in London now – unconnected apart from their use of black and white.

The Don McCullin retrospective at Tate Britain is on until May 6. It starts with his early works in London, including the fantastic The Guv’nors, an image of local sharp-dressed lads posing in the framework of a building. It was that photo which got him seen by the Observer and he has been in demand since.

The exhibition guide features a timeline of world events and conflicts which had an impact on McCullin’s life and career. He apparently is haunted by the fact he is known as a war photographer, but there are many images of conflict and suffering here. Each section on a new conflict he has photographed has a useful introduction explaining it and putting it in context.

There are many shocking images of injury and death, and captions explaining what McCullin was doing at the time of some of the photos, including a photo of a man who was injured in an explosion which he was also struck by, but the man later died. There are haunting close up faces of shock and fear around the world from Biafra, Cyprus, Congo, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Beirut, Iraq and more. Quotes from McCullin reveal how hard he found it to be a witness to their horrors, but saw his role to capture and record it.

McCullin also happened to be in Berlin when the wall was going up, and photographs its building, and civilians and soldiers on both sides. People wave across to family and friends they will be separated from for decades.

On visits home, McCullin captured Bradford and the North as the section is called. There are images of people living in poverty, and also homeless people in the East End of London, showing suffering isn’t always a long way from home.

The exhibition ends with landscapes, still in black and white, but bringing peace to the photographer and hopefully the visitor.

At the Hayward Gallery and also on until May 6, is an exhibition of photos by Diane Arbus, taken in New York City where she was born in 1923, and killed herself in 1971.

These photographs are smaller and the gallery emphasises there is no set route around the exhibition, or chronology to it. The images are displayed on pillars that visitors drift around and have to get close to, and there are photo titles but no more information. Arbus was clearly attracted as a subject to many of those on the fringes of normal society, as well as the woman wrapped up in a fur coat on the bus.

The people photographed are all in New York, or Coney Island, where the idea of a fun resort is tested to the limit. There are many photos of female impersonators before or after their shows. There is a little boy with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, and spooky looking identical twins. Eddie Camel, Jewish Giant, taken at Home with his Parents in the Bronx in 1970, stoops to fit in the room with his normal-sized mum and dad. Another man is covered with tattoos, and a dwarf woman cleans her house.

It’s a completely different exhibition to the McCullin one, but one which also shows us a lot about the variations of humanity.

Biff and the dummies dominate third Yeadon retrospective exhibition

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What Are You Looking At?

The third in a series of exhibitions to celebrate artist John Yeadon reaching 70 features paintings of a manically grinning ventriloquist’s dummy and drawings of a strange creature called Biff.
These weird and wonderful creatures inhabit our world but through them we see it in a different and slightly unnerved way, one which is entrancing and repelling at the same time.
Over the years John has created different bodies of work in varying mediums. An exhibition in the former Coventry Telegraph building last year featured mostly large paintings from the 1980s, some of which had led to a scandalised and homophobic editorial in the paper at the time. There is also a decade of digital work which has not been featured in these exhibitions.
This show, at the Lanchester Research Gallery at Coventry University until February 22, is called Fearful Symmetry. It includes a large number of etchings and drawings of Blind Bifford Jelly, a grotesque character which is an amalgam of body parts; usually lacking one arm, and with his head in place of his torso.
Blind Biff Fucks a Pig
Blind Biff Fucks a Pig

The scene is set for the irreverence with which Biff sees the world in How Blind Biff Greets his Audience, showing our hero with his pants down, bottom and balls thrust towards us. In others he explains to animals “How the Big Ones Eat the Little Ones”. He breaks his journey to masturbate by the pathway, watched by a dog, and in the Houses of Parliament peopled by ape-like creatures he swings the mace.
In one of the drawings he visits Blackpool and gets his toe bitten by a crab, sees the Lady Godiva statue in Coventry, and Blind Biff Searches for God – with a torch, on the carpet.

How BB Jely Swung the Mace in Parliament
How BB Jelly Swung the Mace in Parliament

Biff also features in coloured works with a collage of images in each picture, including Biff exploring sneezing and enjoying a Christmas of drink and food.
In his introduction in the exhibition’s catalogue John said the character of Biff had been influenced by his mother’s ventriloquist dummy Tommy.

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He’s Back

The fascinating family history of performing with ventriloquist dummies features in the next part of the exhibition, including family photos and memorabilia, and the Tommy and Annie dummies themselves. There are unnerving portraits of the pair in Tommy (the Suit Case Act) and Annie (Ghost of my Grandmother), specially the latter looking like a stocky and slightly menacing little girl.
Other portraits of them and other dummies show them in different poses and taking on characters and thoughts, raising the question of who is manipulating who, and really speaking out.
In an excellent essay in the catalogue, George Shaw recounts how he first met John Yeadon in the 1980s after discovering an exhibition of his work at the Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry, and he discusses the significance of the Biff and ventriloquist dummy works. Don’t miss it, and as Yeadon now turns 71, make sure you also don’t miss this excellent addition to the retrospective year.

Small artworks give a close-up view of Whistler’s talent for observation

TheMusicRoom,1859,JAMWhistler©TheHunterian,UniversityofGlasgow,2018

The Music Room, 1859, JAM Whistler @ The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

Art where the greatness is in the detail is the focus of the new exhibition at Compton Verney Art Gallery in Warwickshire.

Entitled Whistler and Nature it looks closely at the work of James McNeill Whistler, the American-born but generally European-based artist who was active in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

However after looking round a lot of the exhibition it does raise the question of how closely the title relates to what is on show. In the catalogue introduction Compton Verney Chief Executive Steven Parissien says that Whistler’s “close observation of nature and its moods underpinned his powerful and haunting visions of nineteenth century life”. And there are many seaside scenes, but also the Thames River in built-up London, indoor paintings and parts that focus on people and nudes in particular, and it’s hard to relate the title that well back to the exhibition.

The show starts by telling us about Whistler’s background in a family of soldiers and engineers, and how he went to the military West Point Academy in 1851-54, and learned to draw maps. There are some examples of his topographical works on show.

In 1855 he moved to Europe, and lived in England amongst relatives including a half-sister. There are some charming early etchings from London, including the 1859 The Music Room, showing the family sat around reading or knitting, a collection of lines bringing them to life. A Greenwich Pensioner lounges on the grass in a top hat in another etching, and the grass is patterned in swirls in Greenwich Park from the same year.

A room is dedicated to etchings of the Thames, focusing we’re told on line and topographical accuracy. There are fantastic historically-interesting views of water, warehouses, and boats with tall masts. In Black Lion Wharf workers are rowing boats around, or sitting after some task. We are even shown how this particular image is on view in the background of the famous painting of Whistler’s mother on show at the Musée D’Orsay in Paris.

BlackLionWharf,1859,JAMWhistler©TheHunterian,UniversityofGlasgow,2018

Black Lion Wharf, 1859, JAM Whistler @The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

The influence of Hiroshige is very apparent on Whistler, as on many international artists at the time, and there are a few of the Japanese artist’s works on show to make this clear. There is even a small, beautiful painting by Whistler of women looking over the smog-covered Thames with dresses and parasols which look like those of Japanese women.

In 1879 Whistler fled the fall out of a court case to go to Venice, and one room is dedicated to a small number of these works, and they are again detailed and charming, showing typical scenes but with his own style; one is unusually an upright view of a favourite view, and there is The Traghetto no2, people having a drink with a gondola only just visible in the background. One etching is highly detailed and floral, another is very pared back and powerful.

TheTraghetto,No.2,JAMWhistler©TheHunterian,UniversityofGlasgow,2018

The Traghetto, No2, JAM Whistler @ The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

There are two sections which don’t seem to fit in with the rest of the show. In Whistler in the Studio, we are invited to admire his draped figures, influenced by classical Greek designs and also Japanese art again, rejecting the earlier Courbet-inspired outside paintings and etchings. A later sections returns to draped figures and nudes, where he has obviously decided less is more, and drawn a veil over the details of his female models’ bodies. It is in the former of these sections that the largest painting in the exhibition is on show, a lovely painting of a woman striding along, her scarf billowing, painted in the styles that Whistler was practising, but by his friend Albert Moore. It’s a brave decision to include it as it overshadows some of the works nearby.

Whistler’s Travels takes us away to the 1880s-90s, and trips to France and the English coast, including St Ives, and lots of small watercolours and oils which are very successful. A few areas of colour or a few small lines portray ships, people and the landscape. In Grey and Silver – North Sea ships battle on beneath the grey sky, and the Bathing Posts, Brittany, show the sea where people were beginning to enjoy bathing.

Some lithographs of Paris are excellent, just a few lines bringing to life people in the Luxembourg Gardens, his wife gardening or people visiting.

Whistler returns, as his wife lay dying, to depicting the Thames from the window of their room, showing people going about daily life beside the river, or crossing bridges, as his viewpoint remained little changed.

It’s overall a fascinating exhibition and a glimpse into the skilled smaller works of a painter better known for his larger, impressive paintings.
*The exhibition is on until December 16.

Struggles of the Great Depression are given a new close-up look

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An amazing selection of black and white photographs have a great impact in a Warwickshire gallery, far away from their source.

Introducing America to Americans – The Farm Security Administration Project, 1935-1944 is the title of the exhibition at The White Room Gallery in Leamington Spa.

The photos may appear familiar if you visited The Human Document exhibition at the Mead Gallery at the University of Warwick back in autumn 2016 – they were previously part of that bigger exhibition.

However here in the smaller space it’s easier to focus on the detail.
In 1935, The Farm Security Administration Programme commissioned some photographers to document the plight of rural workers in America to enlighten the public and politicians about the living conditions of the working classes during the Great Depression. They brought an awareness of poverty to a much larger audience.

Amongst the photographers featured is Dorothea Lange, and her photograph of the 32-year-old ‘migrant mother’ of seven children, Florence Thompson,(above) with a baby and two young children in a pea picking camp, became a famous image, her tough life leaving her looking much older than her age.

Lange’s other photographs here include many people with the pain of poverty on their faces; a sharecropping family on the move, mum in a bonnet clutching her baby, a sad little boy and anguished father. There are black cotton pickers, who worked from 6am-7pm for $1.

Other photographers involved include Arthur Rothstein, whose works include School at Alako, where youngsters sit around a heater while a woman writes on the blackboard; learning still trying to take place amongst the struggle to survive. Russell Lee also photographed a mother teaching her children numbers to help them back to a better life. Lee’s photograph of a former slave woman pictured in 1941 is also shocking, a reminder that slavery was not so far into the past.

John Vachon’s pictures show the sad furniture of evicted share croppers sitting by the roadside.

Families have a whole street of furniture lined up one side of a roadside stream they cross with planks, a tragic place to have come to a stop. Amongst it all, children create their own playground from an old wagon wheel placed on something to become a merry go round.

There is just one of every image on sale at this moving and fascinating exhibition of silver gelatin prints, which is on until November 17.

Family life across globe features in Rugby Gallery’s exhibitions

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A view of Hong Kong from an exhibition at Rugby Art Gallery

A trio of exhibitions at Rugby Art Gallery & Museum is an odd but entertaining grouping.

The Eadons of Hillmorton Road is a collection of photographs from an Edwardian family showing their life from before the First World War. The photos on show come from 300 glass plate negatives taken between 1910-18, and passed on by Chris Eadon to his son David, and donated for this show.

There are scenes of relatives and friends posing for photos in the house and garden, and on holiday in a recognisable Llandudno with the beach, pier and Great Orme visible, along with minstrels from the town’s show on the promenade.

The show is also divided into sections, showing amazing fashion changes through this period, from young women in fashionable hobble skirts, to older people in what look like Victorian leftovers, with floor-length skirts and astonishing fox fur stoles.

There’s a day out at an airshow watching monoplanes watching aviation pioneer Bentfield C Hucks, taken at Lilbourne Camp near Rugby in 1913 and Eastlands show 1912.

A family member is seen on a Triumph motorcycle, which started to be made in Coventry from 1902. The war then intervenes and there are photographs of men, earlier carefree, on horseback and in uniform, and unknown women dressed as nurses.

It’s an interesting insight into a Rugby family’s lives.

Secondly, there is a small selection of work from the Rugby Collection, focusing on people and place. As ever there are good works on show; there is a yellow-themed Graham Sutherland landscape from 1940, and two contrasting but both attractive images of Paris by Sine McKinnon and Martin Norman Bell. Valerie Thornton’s The White Church shows a haunting white building through trees.

Two new acquisitions are photographs by Andrew Jackson. Amy At The Window #1, Dudley, England shows his mother looking through the pane deep in thought, or as the accompanying information tells us she has dementia, maybe lost without thoughts.

The other image is The Sea #1, Montego Bay, Jamaica, showing just a huge area of sea, near the homeland the photographer’s mother has always missed and pined for.

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The third exhibition is The Queen, The Chairman and I, created by Kurt Tong, and featuring photographs he has taken, and old pictures from his family’s past. Tong was born in Hong Kong before the Chinese had it back, but has grown up in England and the exhibition (and its extensive written guide) explores the influence of Queen Victoria and Chairman Mao on his family.

His own photographs tell the story of this, and also show images of Hong Kong and their historical importance, and some quite astonishing tales come out of suffering and loss. Two family albums belonging to Tong’s maternal grandfather Chung Zak are also shown in full, to demonstrate as Tong said the change in the man’s life that was beyond his control; failed businesses, fleeing China, family life falling apart.

It’s a moving and revealing exhibition.

All three are on until October 27.

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Exhibition remembers Leamington’s contribution to First World War effort

Sergeant Geoffrey Gibbs driving a Warwickshire Yeomanry ambulance during the First World War

One of the many events on to mark the century since the end of the First World War is an exhibition at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, entitled Are You In This?

Ending significantly on November 11, the day hostilities ceased in 1918, the exhibition aims to tell the story of Leamington Spa and its people during the war.

Not only did 2,500 local men serve in the war, 500 of them were killed, and the town had troops billeted in the area. Injured soldiers were treated in local hospitals, and women temporarily stepped into what had traditionally been made jobs sich as train drivers, postal workers and firemen. Local firms, such as stove maker Flavel, turned over instead to making shells.

The exhibition includes this sort of information, including some local photographs, such as troops parading and injured patients.

There are medals which were awarded to local people for their bravery or service during the war, and cartoons by Captain Bruce Bairnsfather, who served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment from 1914-15 before he was hospitalised with shellshock and hearing damage from the Second Battle of Ypres. He went on to create cartoons based on life in the trenches.

The exhibition also includes a number of First World War posters from the gallery’s own collection, though they are not generally specific to Leamington.

There are some interesting items and bits of information, but overall the exhibition feels a bit thin, and like there should be more stories to tell here.