Galleries

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.

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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.

Dramatic exhibition asks how much society has really moved on since the 80s

Before the Rain

Oh the irony. An exhibition of paintings criticised 34 years ago in a newspaper editorial as “smut not art” is now on show in the building where that editorial was written and printed.

What’s The Meaning of This? is the title of the ‘selective retrospective’ by John Yeadon, a show to mark reaching 70 and also look back at what may or may not have changed over the years. Is society more tolerant and open minded, is Coventry more enlightened and less provincial, he asks?

Leader article

The front page story of 1984 in which a Tory councillor raged against an exhibition of Yeadon’s paintings as “overtly pornographic” is put on show on the wall, alongside the editorial. The exhibition was called Dirty Tricks and was on at what Yeadon calls the high point of Aids paranoia and ‘gay blame’; he describes the works as allegorical Grotesque Realist paintings.

John says the exhibition of his works at The Herbert increased attendance 40 per cent afterwards. Some of the paintings from that exhibition are on show here in what was the paper’s last news room on its Corporation Street site, before it moved to smaller premises reflecting the decline of print journalism.

It’s a trip down memory lane for me after nearly 19 years spent working at the Cov Tel, though the newsroom moved within the Corporation Street building during those years so the critical editorial wouldn’t have been written in the same room where the paintings are now displayed.

However the room is perfectly proportioned for them, the largest ones fitting brilliantly almost floor to what was the ceiling; the low, oppressive false ceiling fellow journalists will remember has been removed to show the industrial spaces above and the blinds – always closed to stop glare on the computers – are now open. I’ve seen a lot of John’s works over the past 20 years but this earlier period of his was new to me and the dramatic works are stunning and mesmerising.

The Deluge

The Beach Party (before the rain) and The Deluge (after the rain) from 1981 and 82 (top and above) start the show, the first depicting men on a beach, frolicking and partying but in a strange contorted way, playing on a seesaw and dancing around, lots of them semi-naked. The Deluge is darker, literally and metaphorically, with one man being carried by others, their heads covered in bags; the fun is over.

Another painting from 1981, the year of the Charles and Diana royal wedding, the march for jobs and hunger strikes, is called The British Scene/summer 1981, and ironic British flags pop up all over the strange groups of people.

State Apartments       Boy Venus and Midnight of Freedom

Democratic Circus from 1982 features two panels, State Apartments and Assembly Rooms (above) , the official titles at odds with the depictions of men having sex, maybe showing what’s really going on behind the official scenes.

Suicide Street is another dark work, a man created from black intense swirls to show his outline and torso, with Zombie on Suicide Street written on it.

Boy Venus (Sunday Draws In) of 1987 shows a good looking naked young man starting straight at the artist, as another man enters the room through the curtains. Midnight of Freedom shows a naked black man crouched on a television, looking wary.

There’s also a whole corner of large paintings of naked men in various scenes.

Range of pics

John’s series of paintings of his family and his ventriloquist dummies aren’t included in this selective exhibition, nor his digital pieces concentrating on food and obesity (which also gathered negative press attention), but there are a number from his Englandia series, showing pleasant small paintings; a duck house to again reflect a political scandal of a few years ago, plus pastoral fields of English countryside, and other fields with human invasions of pylons and powerlines, railway tracks and windfarms.

Even more recent paintings – a Control Room at Sellafield, showing one man in charge of a bank of screens and buttons, and It’s Alive!, his 2017 version of a much older paintings of the WITCH computer at Bletchley – also feature.

I wouldn’t even think of trying to answer John’s questions about society and Coventry in particular and how it’s changed over the years. But after what will probably be more than half my working lifetime spent at the Coventry Evening Telegraph building it was interesting to visit for the last time before it’s conversion to a hotel and see in particular some works from an exhibition I wasn’t in Coventry for the first time around, and hope that such an editorial would never be written today.

Fascinating paintings to see too if you’re only familiar with John’s works from the last couple of decades – the show is on until June 14, Mondays to Saturdays 12-4pm.

Behind the scenes at the museum …. for real

An opportunity to learn about what’s not usually on show, as well as see some things for the first time, is offered by a Warwickshire gallery.

Unlocked! Behind the Scenes at the Art Gallery & Museum is the current exhibition at Leamington Spa’s Art Gallery & Museum.

It is billed as a chance to see items that are rarely displayed, and others that are undergoing conservation work.

It seemed strange then that the first painting you see is The Three Generations by Sarkis Katchadourian, which featured in a recent exhibition of works donated to the gallery by Alderman Holt. It is justified though by its appearance in a book of 1,000 paintings to see “before you die”, and the fact that this means the gallery gets requests to see it. And the painting of three Muslim women in varied looks means it is a highlight of the Leamington collection.

The first item listed in the gallery’s collection was a copy of The Antiquities of Warwickshire by Sir William Dugdale, but the real first item is thought to be a mug commemorating a boxing match in the 1860s, when the collection began. It now amounts to 12,500 items, acquired through a mix of donations and some acquisitions. The most recent acquisition is the stunning Satellite II by Noémie Goudal, a large photographic print combining real and imaginary scenery which is on show in the main gallery.

The exhibition moves on to show ethnographical items from around the world, donated over the years (and no longer accepted as gifts), all rather incongruous and not forming a coherent collection, plus ceramics from different eras and countries.

One fascinating item is a Buddhist text in a long scroll, held together with string and a wooden front to it; but in a mixed eclectic collection like this there’s bound to be something to please all tastes.

The Dancing Bear, a painting by William Lee Hankey (1869-1952), is used as an example of conservation work, with what looks like tissue paper currently stuck to parts of it as an element of the work.

Natural History and Archaeology is seen as an orphaned collection, with no new items being accepted, and featuring both local and national pieces. It includes a lovely book showing a drawing of a Blue Heron and Little Egret.

More up to date there’s a photograph of a work created by former artist-in-residence Gerard Mermoz, taking a damaged old portrait and superimposing a comptometer machine on top of it to create a new work, in his familiar style of bringing two things together to create a third.

One area looks at how things have changed over the years; there’s Simeon Solomon’s 1870 painting of The Sleepers and the One That Watcheth, three people embracing, plus Ralph Nicholas Chubb’s Contemplation, and Reclining Nude, the latter featuring a naked young man painted from behind laying in a field where rabbits gambol, both from the 1920s. They all hint at a love that could not then speak its name.

A well-known image of Leamington graffiti, Avoid Cider, features amongst several photos from a Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane exhibition.

It’s interesting to see what’s in the stores and also slightly disappointing there’s no amazing new surprises – but then if there were it would be a scandal they had been hidden away so long. An enjoyable visit, and interesting to learn more about collecting policy and conservation and storage work.

The exhibition is on until July 15.

Seeing faces behind the art brings new look to annual exhibition

LS Lowry, Head of a Man (copyright The Lowry Collection, Salford)

The Rugby Collection is on show again at the town’s art gallery, curated as every year around a different theme – and this year with some additional loans to add more lustre.

The theme this year is portraiture, and the exhibition is split into three themed areas: A Face Behind the Name, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum Portraits and Inside Stories, featuring figurative works that have a narrative.
The first of these includes loans from the National Portrait Gallery and The Lowry, which are all portraits of artists whose work is included in the Rugby Collection, with the works shown together.

Most striking of these is Head of a Man (With Red Eyes) by LS Lowry from 1938 (top), showing the artist with blood shot eyes, matching red scarf and a troubled forehead. It was completed during a worrying time in his life, when his father had died and he had become responsible for caring for his ailing mother, who was dying after his six years of care, as his career was taking off. He started the self-portrait, and found that an unsettling process too. It is shown alongside the Rugby Collection’s Monday Morning, an oil from 1946, showing a lot of people trudging to work in a factory which is already throwing out smoke from the chimneys.

Also borrowed, is Leon Kossoff’s self portrait from 1981, showing a rather miserable look through the heavy impasto, and also looking very much like the mirror image of Head of Father from 1978, which is on show from the town’s collection.

A Lucian Freud self portrait painted in 1963, and on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, is in his recognisable style, whereas The Fig Treet, a chalk drawing from 1943, is less recognisable and dates from a trip to Greece where he drew lot of trees and landscapes.

Edward Bawden’s self-portrait shows him very much as an artist, a board up blocking our full view of him drawing himself in pen and watercolour in 1986, and the gallery’s own Glenties, The Old Graveyard, shows a colourful scene of tombstone and sky from 1962.

Richard Hamilton’s self portrait from 1970 is a screen/collotype, showing the artist unrecognisable through distorting his features. His print from 1993, Just what is it that makes today’s homes, so different? Features disparate images all in one room, including a female bodybuilder with a lollipop sign, and microwave decorating a table.

There are others too, all worth seeing to observe the person behind a work that has probably featured in a Rugby Art Gallery & Museum show before.

Joseph Herman, Head of a Miner (copyright Joseph Herman, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, Rugby Borough Coun

The section of Rugby Collection’s own portraits not surprisingly features a large variety of works, including Josef Herman’s Head of a Miner (above), painted in oil on a range of brown and ochres, showing the angular figure looking sideways.

Winston Branch, West Indian (copyright Winston Branch, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, Rugby Borough Council)

By contrast, Winston Branch’s West Indian from 1973, shows the man in a pink spotted hat, surrounded by a huge variety of colour.

Paul Richards, Portrait of Michael Burley, 1988 (copyright Paul Richards, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, Rug

Paul Richards’s Portrait of Michael Burleigh from 1988 shows the author and historian in a blur of yellows, greens and blacks apparently mixed directly on the canvas, giving the image a vibrant, busy look but recognisably human.
In the Inside Stories section, works are again varied, but including The Bride’s Secret Diary, a wild oil painting by Paula Rego from 1981 featuring hints of skulls and folklore characters, and The Wild Duck, a sinister 1990 etching of a young girl sat on a man’s lap, being watched by characters in the shadows.

Other contrasting works include Two Beach Babies, 1933 oil by Wyndham Lewis, showing two women featuring elements of Cubist and Futurist influence, and Cockerel in a Landscape, a 1948 lithograph by Michael Rothenstein, showing the bird in the foreground apparently fleeing its owner at her cottage.

The exhibition includes lots of excellent lengthy introductions to the different sections, and captions, plus a lovely colour catalogue, and is well worth a visit to see the Rugby Collection’s latest re-invention. The show is on until June 16.

Beach-found items feature in new art show conjuring up sea images

Echoes of the seaside feature in the new exhibition at The White Room Gallery in Leamington.

Entitled Land and Sea, the show in the Regent Street gallery includes a lot of works by Philip Goddard, with some works by other artists too.

Birmingham-born Goddard studied at The Slade School of Fine Art and Chelsea School of Art, and has been a White Room favourite since the gallery opened 15 years ago. In his collection in this exhibition, The Constructed Landscape, he uses found objects from along the Kent coast where he once lived, paint and other materials to conjure up images of a landscape or coastal scene.

There are small bits of wood, and lots of mesh metalwork, sometimes painted over or painted through, with some constructions looking like part of a boat, or a distant boat afloat. There is lots of blue and yellow paint, and constructed landscapes in box frames. There are monoprints again using the mesh pattern, and some with a dark stripe to one side looking like a flag. They are refreshing to look at and definitely bring a feel of the sea to the Midands.

Other artists in the exhibition include Adrian Bradbury, who studied art at Goldsmiths and went on to work for Bauer, DuPont and others, and who is showing a set of prints entitled Coast, which feature layers of colour.

Tim Southall is a regular exhibitor at The White Room Gallery, and is showing some more of his drawings in this show. It also features works by his great uncle, Sir Frank Job Short, who was born in 1857 in Stourbridge and trained as an engineer, but his passion was for art. He became Professor of Engraving at The Royal College of Art in 1913, and this exhibition shows several of his etchings, lovely scenes of long-ago life; seaside folk on a quay, a windmill, a village with churchtower and a man at work.

In the centre is Coming Home, by Tim Southall, showing someone in a lit-up night walking towards a house.

The exhibition is on until May 25, and worth visiting for the variety of works by a number of talented artists.

Modern life -and its downsides – is theme of New Art West Midlands

Gem Douglas - But home is the mouth of a shark

It’s New Art West Midlands time again, when there’s a chance to see winning work selected by a judging panel from applicants who have all graduated in the past three years from the region’s art schools.

This year the work is on show at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (until May 13), AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent (until March 31), and at The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry, which is so far the only space I have visited.

Unfortunately there’s no work on show there by Coventry University graduates, but there is work by 10 artists out of the 28 from 130 who applied this year.

Keri Jayne -One Day 1

They include works which of course reflect themes and changes of our times. Kerri Jayne’s work (above) called One Day features 148 framed pieces of work highlighting the overwhelming number of news items that can come at you on one day online from traditional and social media. There’s ‘real’ news, as well as fake, celebrity and life advice. They are presented in a variety of ways and highlight the claustrophobic effect this can have.

Lucy Hanrahan’s work We Are The Social Media Generation also looks at the influence of social media, with a few words displayed on a big blue background-type screen, and a ubiquitous phone screen, with one eye reflected back at you. More of her work is on show at the other two venues.

Ephemera install shot 2

Lisa Kemp’s Ephemera 1, 2 and 3 (above) also looks at the bombardment of information which comes at us every day through many sources including billboards and advertising. Different sources are used to create three large boards of overlapping information, including one where the background is entirely the Wolverhampton Express and Star.

Gem Douglas’s But How Is The Mouth of the Shark (top) also looks at a big contemporary concern, creating what could be an abode of a homeless person, hung with scraps of material, but also includes poetry by Somali poet Warsan Shire who has written of the plight of refugees.

SAILS 2

Maggie Shutter has used canvas in different ways to challenge the use of materials in art (above), creating Square, a piece of what looks like fabric not quite falling in a square shape, and Three Sails, brightly coloured works filling a corner.

Valerija Zukova’s work is hard to look at clearly, being a work in Perspex, held together with small clips, and able to be formed into different shapes. She is questioning the variety of different types of sculpture and use of materials.

Another couple of artists are featured in a corridor, and they include Jez Dolan, exploring queerness and language, with altered wording used in reports by John Wolfenden, who chaired the 1957 committee which recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

The exhibition demonstrates some common themes, but also the variety of work being produced in the West Midlands art colleges. The show at The Herbert is on until May 13.

Don’t miss seeing great pop art collection on its tour to Coventry

If you’ve never been to Wolverhampton Art Gallery to see their excellent collection of Pop Art, fear not – it’s come to you.

The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry has created, in partnership with the Wolverhampton gallery, Pop! British and American Art 1960-1975, a lavish explosion of colour in its largest gallery space.

There are also a few additions from Birmingham’s collection too, including the lovely Big Red Bus, a 1962 work by Allen Jones, which features the colours and sloping shape of a speeding vehicle rushing past you.

There is one work by Pauline Boty, recently rediscovered and celebrated for her contribution to the male-dominated world of pop art, Colour Her Gone, a gorgeous 1962 painting of Marilyn Monroe in which the actress is depicted as if smiling happily towards the artist, backed by flowers, and framed between two painted panels. It’s a shame there’s not a few more in the show.

However there are works by major artists including Peter Blake and Richard Hamilton. There’s a work by David Hockney, a man in the shower, and quite daring for the time it was painted. There are lots of collages and prints by Eduardo Paolozzi, plus a metallic sculpture Greek Hero II, loaned from the Birmingham collection.

Several Patrick Caulfields are great additions, including a 1964 representation of modern ruins, and a fantastic and very large 1971 work Tandoori Restaurant, with all the familiar items reduced to their outline shapes.

The exhibition has some lengthy and very useful captions to each work to explain the artist’s background and influences, and the evolution and ideas of Pop Art, which greatly enhance the exhibition. Definitely one not to miss – and on until June 3.

Enjoy the legacy of ‘benevolent despot’ of Leamington art collection

John Terrick Williams

John Terrick Williams, Boats in Harbour, Mevagissey, oil on canvas, 1935-1936

The artistic legacy of a man who left his mark on Leamington Spa is explored at the town’s art gallery.

The Benevolent Despot – Alderman Alfred Holt (1858 – 1943) and the foundation of Leamington Art Gallery tells the story of the long-standing councillor and his contribution to the town he came to call home, and his huge input into the town’s art collection.

The independently-wealthy Holt was from London, but visited Leamington in 1893 and fell for its charms, settling in Oakwoods (a house which is no longer there) in Kenilworth Road with his wife Florence for the rest of his life. He half funded the bandstand and the fountains in Jephson Gardens, helped found the Leamington Cricket Club, and less attractively rode with the local hunt. He was elected to the council in 1906, and became engrossed by local leadership, being mayor seven times.

Holt also part funded the art gallery extension to the library in Avenue Road, and from 1928 until its temporary closure during the Second World War he was its biggest donor, giving 12 of the first 13 paintings to the collection, and 109 in total.

Many are on show in this fascinating exhibition. There are portraits, landscapes and social scenes. Holt was interested in travel and went abroad a lot, and some seem to reflect that interest too, including Francisco Hohenleiter’s Corral en Triana, an oil painting of people gathered around a well in a pretty, sun-lit courtyard.

Another strong work is Sarkis Katchadourian’s The Three Generations, showing three Muslim women in a market scene, two in white and one in a long black gown.

There is John Terrick Williams’s attractive Boats in Harbour, Mevagissey, from the 1930s, and two paintings of St Ives, Bernard Ninnes’s  Boat Builders Shop, St Ives, a large work with the harbour recognisable through the window,  and R Borlase Smart’s The Pilot’s Boat House, St Ives, a crowded scene showing a familiar building before the arrival of too much tourism. Old Oak, Stoneleigh Road by Thomas Baker shows a sturdy old tree nearer to home.

David Alison
David Alison (1882-1955), Portrait of Alderman Alfred Holt, 1930, oil on canvas

Alderman Holt, as Project Curator Jeff Watkins notes, donated works by some of the most celebrated artists of the era, including Christopher Nevinson, Dorothea Sharp and Stanley and Gilbert Spencer.

The exhibition includes The Chicken Boy by Gilbert Spencer, an oil on board showing a lot of chickens following the dull-looking boy – which features in a book of “1,000 paintings to see before you die”.  There is also Cookham Rise by Stanley Spencer, a view of some simple homes and newly-laid out gardens in a peaceful setting in his characteristic style.

Other portraits include Poverty by William Lee-Hanley, featuring an unhappy woman with two children, and Alan Hayward’s The Onion Man, showing a jaunty figure with a string of onion and a seaside scene in the background. Celia Frances Bedford’s Lady with Powder Puff shows a woman in a social setting looking at herself in a mirror, while a man looks at her.

Holt’s love of travel is shown in the donation of three large Maori shawls which he is believed to have brought back from a trip.

Holt’s name lives on in Holt Estate in Lillington, and in the gifting of a pendant for the Mayoress to wear but through the donation of 109 paintings and other works of art the ‘benevolent despot’ has left a gift of beauty for generations to enjoy.

*The exhibition at Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum continues until January 7.

Artist and writer go back to nature to explore children’s Lost Words

Dandelion -R Jackie Morris r

Dandelion by Jackie Morris

It’s a sobering fact, quoted in the introduction to a new exhibition at Compton Verney Art Gallery & Park, that three quarters of British schoolchildren spend less time outdoors than prisoners.

 

And that a survey found that eight – 11 year olds were better able to identify types of Pokemon characters than types of UK wildlife. It’s impossible too not to think of recent news reports about the rise in childhood obesity rates and see how these things like together.

The exhibition The Lost Words is inspired by these findings, and is a collaboration between writer Robert Macfarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris.

And at least you have to get some exercise walking through the beautiful Capability Brown-designed parkland at Compton Verney to see the show.

Macfarlane has written a series of poems each named after a bird, animal or plant and Morris has painted two or three watercolours to go with each. The poems are acrostic – the first letter of each sentence spells out the name of the subject of the poem.

Subjects include bramble, wren, willow, magpie, starling, raven and adder. In most cases there is a beautiful illustration on goldleaf of the creature, then another watercolour of it in motion; there are small birds amongst foliage, two otters circling each other in a pool, a family of kingfishers waiting to be brought food, and a heron in flight, amongst the 50 works. There are also some others, showing the path of the creature for example. In some, there’s a magical, mystical nightime scene.

Morris seems to excel specially at birds, and it’s an attractive, entrancing exhibition, which should send you back into the park to see what you can spot down on the water in particular.

The Wild Washerwomen, Quentin Blake

Also at Compton Verney until December 17 is Quentin Blake – Inside Stories, in which the illustrator explains how he works, and the stories behind some of his best-loved creations. The exhibition includes his own explanations of how he has put together the pictures for stories by writers as varied as Roald Dahl, Michael Rosen and the eighteenth century’s Voltaire (he produced an illustrated version of Candide).

There are initial drawings, and then the fully-completed illustrations on show.

There are more than 140 works on show, including the drawings used in books such as Dahl’s The Twits and BFG, and David Walliams’s The Boy in the Dress. Others, such as The Wild Washerwomen, are less familiar, to me anyway.
The exhibition is sure to delight the many fans of Quentin Blake’s work.