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Eric Ravilious and his talented circle are rightly celebrated in this densely-packed exhibition

Eric Ravilious, The Westbury Horse, 1939. Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

Eric Ravilious, The Westbury Horse, 1939. Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

A fascinating artist and his circle of talented friends are the focus of an excellent new exhibition at Compton Verney art gallery which you really must not miss.

Ravilious and Co: The Pattern of Friendship is a densely-packed exhibition, with dozens of paintings and engravings, plus textiles, ceramics, book covers and illustrations by the circle of artists who were active in the early 20s.

Curated by Andy Friend and Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne, where Eric Ravilious grew up and which houses the largest collection of his work, it consists of more than 400 items, with 90 of them not seen before. They are shown chronologically so you can follow through the artists’ stories, and see where they interact, with their artistic influences, political involvements, friendships, marriages and affairs.

The exhibition opens with Ravilious’s The Greenhouse: Cyclamens and Tomatoes which illustrates his mastery of colour and style, with the rows of identical ceramic pots filled with pink flowers, and plants hanging heavy with green tomatoes overhead.

It then backtracks to the Royal College of Art, and the many artists Ravilious interacted with professionally and personally. It includes the influence of Paul Nash on the development of his wood engraving, and his prolific output, with a later mocked-up bookshop containing nearly 100 books, covers and illustrations by Ravilious, Paul and John Nash, Edward Bawden and Barnett Freedman to show the influence they had in the 1920s and 30s, and the incredibly stylish work they produced.

 

Eric Ravilious, Boy Birds-Nesting, 1926. Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

Eric Ravilious, Boy Birds-Nesting, 1926, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

 

Their work was transferable to other materials as well, with a huge bowl created for Wedgwood by Ravilious to commemorate the Boat Race also featuring, and looking more like an item from the 1950s than 30s.

There are paintings from brothers John and Paul Nash, with Whiteleaf from 1921 by the former showing a dark brown countryside with movement in the trees, and Paul’s The Shore, Dymchurch, a recurring subject appearing twice in the exhibition, with variations on the distant sea, birds aloft and breakwaters. Other paintings by Barnett Freedman show his developing painting work throughout the 1920s.

Waterwheel, a watercolour of 1934 by Ravilious, shows his style of muted colours, and clear texture, though apparently he’d artistically ‘moved’ the wheel in question to fit in with what he wanted to paint. Westbury Horse of 1939 is equally attractive, though a freight train rushes by the ancient English scene, showing new developments and possibly a portent of war.

Women artists feature well in the exhibition, and there are designs on show by Enid Marx (who also features heavily in Compton Verney’s excellent and re-hanged Folk Art collection), including a headscarf in Spanish Republican colours, and designs by Diana Low. A wood engraving by Helen Binyon, The Wire Fence, of 1935, shows the odd subject matter of a woman climbing through a fence, in a similar pose to Ravilious’s Boy Bird Nesting from 1926. Later, Diana Low became close to the 40-year older William Nicholson and they painted each others’ portraits; she is shown standing, attractive and vibrant, but she paints him looking portly, laying full out on a sofa.

Ravilious went into teaching after the Royal College of Art, in his early 20s, and one 17-and-a-half-year-old student made a particular impression on him; he apparently spent several years sure of his feelings for Tirzah Garwood, but not sure if they were reciprocated. There is a fantastic engraving of the bleak attic room she lived in while studying, The Boxroom of 1929, where he used to visit her, with a woman pictured laying on the bed under some drying washing. It contrasts with another fantasy engraving of a woman on a sumptious bed with fantasy-forest wall hangings surrounding her.

A striking portrait by Phyllis Dodd shows Tirzah in a green coat and hat, looking like a woman who knows her own mind; Ravilous and Tirzah later married and there are paintings and other works by her on show too, demonstrating her clear style and interest in different subject matter to Ravilious’s landscape passion. Her work include paintings of the Four Seasons, with spring seen as spring cleaning, and others showing the good people of Eastbourne, some more as caricatures than characters.

New areas of countryside and coast, and house moves, inspired Ravilious and visiting friends at different times, as selections of their work shows. There is his only known surviving pastel work, Study of a Sussex Woodland from 1924, showing shade under a low canopy of trees. He went on an Italian tour, and the engraving of San Gimignano from 1925 includes its recognisable towers, though his image of a Sussex Church, framed between trees, is just as beautiful.

Helen Binyon painted watercolours of Furlongs, East Sussex, when the Ravilious’s lived there in the early 1930s, and there is Furlongs by Ravilious, showing horses pulling towering carts of hay. He subsequently had an affair with Binyon, depicted by her friend Peggy Angus in 1940, with him looking pensive at the bottom of the stairs, she with her chin in her hands and a cup of tea beside her.

The exhibition also includes a design shop made to look like Dunbar Hay, a London retailer which sold works by Ravilious, Enid Marx, Tirzah, Bawden, Diana Low, Peggy Angus and others, with them designing for organisations such as the BBC, London Transport, Wedgwood and the GPO.

 

Eric Ravilious, Sussex Church, 1924. Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

Eric Ravilious, Sussex Church, 1924, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

 

As the Second World War approached, the Artists’ International Association was formed, flirting with communism, and led by Helen Binyon, with other artists taking in refugees. Her affair with Ravilious had ended but they remained close and there is a letter praising her illustrations for Pride and Prejudice. A poignant 1939 lithograph by Binyon called The Flower Show is said to be based on an Eastbourne event, and to show a man who looks like Ravilious carrying a small child.

There is a selection of Ravilious’s pre-war watercolours showing scenes such as Beachy Head and Rye Harbour, next to his work as a war artist; the same colours are there, but there’s suddenly the jarring notes of barbed wire on the beaches and barrage balloons above. Corporal Stediford’s Mobile Pigeon Loft is a different subject matter for Ravilious, showing lots of the birds.

Ravilious went on an RAF reconnaissance flight off Iceland on 2 September 1942, and disappeared; a few days later a jolly letter he had written to Tirzah arrived at her home, including instructions for her to draw round her hand so he could buy her gloves. Left alone with three children, she had already survived cancer once, but went on to remarry a few years later before succumbing to the disease. The exhibition closes with her painting The Springtime of Flight, showing a plane in a brilliant blue sky over a sea of colourful flowers.

This really is an exhibition not to be missed, packing in fantastic paintings by Ravilious and the Nashs in particular, plus more of their contemporaries and lots of great engravings, ceramics and textile works too. It continues until June 10.

Eric Ravilious, Portrait of Edward Bawden, 1930 (c) Royal College of Art

Eric Ravilious, Portrait of Edward Bawden, 1930 C Royal College of Art. 

 

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Let there be light for mixed exhibition inspired by town festival

A slightly puzzling exhibition starts the new year at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum.

Back in the 1950s, Leamington’s response to the Festival of Britain was its own festival called The Lights of Leamington, which apparently drew 300,000 visitors to the town. Jephson Gardens was lit up with thousands of coloured electric lights to create a wonderland, with the event so popular it was repeated up until October 1961. It only came to an end then as it was a victim of its own success, increasingly costly to run, and with complaints about visitor rowdiness. There was even an attempt to revive it in the 1980s but it was too expensive.

So as the gallery’s new exhibition Lights of Leamington was inspired by it, I’d expected to see more photos of this amazing creation, and it was a bit disappointing to find only one cabinet of black and white photos, showing what looks like lovely scenes of characters, creatures and lit-up trees and walkways.

The exhibition, described in its own publicity as eclectic, has been selected and curated by Birmingham-based artist Stuart Whipps who has gone through the gallery’s collection and followed the theme of light through it.

This means the rest of the display has this general theme. Whipps himself has added one work involving burned bits of photo negative found in the collection.
There are paintings, including some of people or things lit by candlight; Godfried Schlacker’s self portrait by candlelight is a striking work dating back to 1695, and Christmas Roses by James Valentine Jelley from 1856 shows the flowers gently illuminated.

A painting entitled Moonlight showing two boats under the night sky was one donated by Alderman Holt, the subject of a previous exhibition, and a travel poster shows the bright lights of the Ostend Casino as a draw to visit Belgium.

Kathlen Mary Lamphier Calcutt’s Park Farm, Stareton, is an attractive watercolour, and Catherine Yass’s colourful lightbox work shows a figure and a strange flash of light at Guy’s Cliffe, near Warwick.

Many people have happy memories of Leamington’s Toytown shop, and Stuart Whipps has found the letters from its sign in the archive, and displayed them with LED flashing lights included in the exhibition, but in the order they came out of the storeroom, so not spelling out the word – still it’s a good reminder!

Other additions include metal candlesticks and a collection of photos of streetlamps in Leamington.

Eclectic is certainly one word for this slightly strange connected, yet rather disconnected, exhibition. Hopefully visitors will come forward with more memories and pictures from the 1950s show for a follow up.

*The exhibition runs until April 15.

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.

Idea of rural idyll is thoroughly explored in excellent Compton Verney show

A Farmer and his Prize Heifer, artist unknown, c.1844 -® Compton Verney, photo by Jamie Woodley

A Farmer and His Prize Heifer (unknown artist), c.1844, Compton Verney, photo Jamie Woodley

Lying as it does in its own “rural idyll”, it is fitting that Compton Verney art gallery has opened its year with an exhibition examining the truths and myths behind those words.

Entitled Creating the Countryside: Thomas Gainsborough to Today it looks at how artists have depicted the country over the space of four centuries. Often throughout the exhibition older and newer works are placed together to throw in elements of realism to an attractive glossing over of the truth.

The exhibition begins by looking at the idea of the countryside as a place of escape, an idea that has obviously been around for a long time as seen in Claude Lorrain’s image of Youth Playing a Pipe in a Pastoral Landscape from 1645, showing the boy as peaceful animals graze and the scene looks lovely.

Nearby, there’s a Henshall and Company of Longport platter showing Compton Verney, a vision of an idealised landscape created by Capability Brown, showing two men in the foreground with their hunting dogs and pheasants, and the artificially-made lake.

John Constable’s Willy Lott’s House, 1816, shows a simple but attractive house next to water, with a comment that it transformed landscape painting. Next to it is a Paul Reas photo of Constable Country – people being moved into position to view the scene of one of his famous paintings, turning the rural idyll into a tourist business.

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Helen Allingham, A Surrey Cottage, 1880, watercolour Couresy of Burgh House and Hampstead Museum

 

The next room features other country images not quite as they seem; Helen Allingham’s A Surrey Cottage 1880 is a watercolour of a delightful scene, but the cottage in question was under threat of destruction from the coming of the railways.

Grayson Perry’s 2006 ceramic Fantasy Village also looks at the reality behind the image – a village where single mothers were cast out, and where now there are ugly convenience shops and litter.

A room entitled Working the Land, focuses on other issues and there’s a big altar-like display of corn dollies made by Raymond Bush for harvest festival; the delicate and attractive work contrasts with the photograph by Andy Sewell from 2014 showing plastic carrier bags of food as a church centrepiece.

There are works by a number of artists including John Nash, George Stubbs, Harry Becker and Constable showing countryfolk at their honest toil, and then another photo by Paul Reas entitled Harvest of a Bygone Age, Home Farm Museum, Hampshire, showing people from 1993 watching a host of others in period costume gathering in hay; the performers have mostly paused to look at their audience, creating a strange multi-focused scene but again with the past and the countryside as tourism.

Sigrid Holmwood’s Museum Girl with Doll, painted with mushroom and other natural plant pigments, also shows a scene of acting from a country museum.

A section entitled The Dark Pastoral examines mysticism, turmoil and death. Hilary Jacks’s Turqoise Bag looms over it, a tree with a plastic bag caught in its branches, symbolising the impact on the environment of modern living. John Piper’s Derelict Cottage shows a former home, now lost, and covered in scribbled marks. Graham Sutherland’s Number Forty Nine, from 1924, also creates beauty in a detailed drawing of a thatched cottage which has lost most of its roof.

Anna Fox and Alison Goldfrapp in an untitled work create a sinister tone with a photograph of a woman’s legs laying on bluebells, red shoes on, raising ideas of a violent act having taken place.

ANNA_FOX_EXHIBITION_47

Anna Fox and Alison Goldfrapp, Untitled, from Country Girls, 1996, C-Type colour print
© The Artists, courtesy of the Hyman Collection, London

Evelyn Mary Dunbar’s A 1944 Pastoral: Land Girls Pruning at East Malling is an oil painting of women at work in a bleak wood, reflecting the time, surrounded by images of cutting, with a saw, pliers and secateurs.

The Great Escape section looks at holidays, including Paul Hill’s photo Legs Over High Tor, Matlock, a girl’s legs hanging off the natural feature as cars go by on the road below, and a colourful Shell poster of Faringdon Folly, 1936,considered a worthy destination.

The village is looked at too, with a long work by Sir Stanley Spencer designed to hang in Cookham.

A 1971 photo by Homer Sykes of the Burry Man, a depiction of a strange village tradition, plus the Allendale folk walking with burning barrels on their heads shows the stranger side of village life.

It’s a well put together exhibition, not being fooled by the chocolate box image of the countryside and showing that mythologizing and sentimentalising it is not just a recent thing.

BURRYMAN  SCOTLAND SOUTH QUEENSFERRYThe Burry Man by Homer Sykes, 1971, courtesy of the Hyman Collection

Prize-winning artist’s realist paintings veer towards the ‘downright disconcerting’

Tear

It was a first for the Deasil Gallery when a celebrity collector officially opened an exhibition of works by the artist he admires.

The show at the gallery in Leamington was the first solo exhibition by Neil Moore since 2008 and his first in the town for 10 years, though he has participated in Warwickshire Open Studios and group shows.

Moore, who was born in 1950 in Leicester, also won the Leamington Open in 2015, and his photo realist oil paintings and charcoal works are instantly recognizable.  The introduction to this exhibition claims he “explores the complex psychology of modern-day society”, and that some people find answers in his work, and others questions.

His celebrity collector, writer of screenplays, TV adaptations and novels Andrew Davies, who lives in Kenilworth, described Moore’s paintings in his opening speech as “tender, ruthless, sometimes downright disconcerting but always beautiful.” He said he owned half a dozen already but felt drawn towards another one in this exhibition – Disorientation, which appeared to show two attractive blonde women about to kiss – or is it one woman with a mirror image?

Baptism of Fire

Neil himself claims to not know where the ideas for his works come from; though a coracle that appears in some of these recent works was a real item made by a friend that he has incorporated into the work. Quite why a slim, attractive, naked woman is carrying it in Underside I don’t know.

In Tenebrae a woman in a white robe sits in the coracle in water, a crown of candles on her head. Does it relate to a real story or myth? Neil is vague on the subject, just saying all his works are about people. In Baptism of Fire the same woman is in the water, her robe falling off and her head lowered, in what looks like some sort of sacrificial scene.

Wasted

In Tear (top) a woman looks out at the viewer as she tears some black material which at the moment is shielding her naked top. In Wasted, a young woman in a boobtube top, her eye make up worryingly blurred and her hair tumbling looks a bit disturbed and it’s one of the “downright disturbing” ones Andrew Davies mentioned.

Underside

Deliverance, in which a topless woman with a wide, hooped petticoat on looks down at a baby girl on the floor below her is equally disturbing. Others such as Air Chrysalis where a woman lays in bed beneath a sheet are less so.

Air Chrysalis

Moore is clearly highly admired and a talented artist. Some of his works though, concentrating as this collection seems to anyway, on slim, attractive women, often partially clothed, and in a couple of cases with babies or dolls, do create anxieties, and raise questions but for me not in a good way.

The exhibition, entitled The Answer?, is on until March 30