Help save fantastic paintings of Coventry

A set of fantastic watercolours of Coventry painted in 1819-20 has been discovered – but the public’s help is needed to secure it for the city.
Coventry’s Conservation Officer George Demidowicz spotted the album of works by William H Brooke on an auction house’s list of items for sale. He persuaded The Herbert that they should be bought for the city, and the gallery has now launched a £12,000 public appeal to buy them and make them ready for display.
The album is dated 1819, and includes about 80 watercolours and lots of line drawings of familiar and unfamiliar sites in the city centre.
Herbert curator Martin Roberts said: “He seems to have travelled extensively in the British Isles, especially England. A few other albums he did were sold at Sotheby’s a few years ago. They are so good and accurate and fresh.”
Brooke was known for his portrait paintings and engravings, and worked initially in pen and ink before moving on to watercolours. There are examples of his works in the Tate Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, plus lots of regional galleries.
George said: “90 per cent of what he painted in Coventry will have gone but there will be scenes that haven’t changed.
“He doesn’t seem to have made anything up. You can rely on his architectural detail. It’s vital we get them.”
The pencil grid markings Brooke made to keep his watercolours accurate can be seen in many of the paintings. Early works in the set include Hill Street, Bond’s Hospital and Ford’s Hospital. The Golden Cross pub is instantly recognisable, as is Whitefriars Gate and Cook Street tower.
Long-lost parts of the town wall near Gulson Road are painted, and there’s an amazing scene showing a bridge over the River Sherbourne and surrounded by buildings – it is on the site of what is now the fountain in the middle of the precinct.
Possibly best of all, the watercolours have found a piece of lost history.
George said: “We knew there were excavations in the Old Grammar School in the 19th century and they discovered pieces of a Norman Romanesque church. There’s a view of the east of the Old Grammar School and he’s picked up on it.”
Of course where the impressive piece of stonework painted went after that, is anybody’s guess…..
St George’s Chapel in Far Gosford Street which is no more is also depicted, and what is described as the remains of Spon Hospital – but there’s a lot more in the picture than remains there in a small shell now!
There is what George described as a “very unusual” view of Broadgate with a number of buildings, including a subscription library, intruding into the area. These were later removed to create the large, open Broadgate.
There is the old Swanswell Mill, on the site of what is now the bus station, and more regconisable pictures, including Cheylesmore Manor House, now the register office, and lots of the Bayley Lane and St Mary’s Hall area. One picture fascinatingly shows the view of the side of what is now the Herbert – there are metal signs outside now representing the building which once stood on the site but the painting shows the original buildings.
These fantastic watercolours capture a piece of Coventry’s history that deserves to be kept for the city. Donations can be sent or taken to The Herbert Art Gallery (for attention of Emma Maclellan), Jordan Well, Coventry, CV1 5QP, via the Get Involved section of http://www.theherbert.org or by calling Emma on 024 7629 4748.

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