Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum

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.

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Journey Through Japan is attractive but not without confusion

leamington-spa-art-gallery-museum-the-children-hand-coloured-glass-lantern-slide-1903-2

The Children, a hand coloured glass lantern slide 1903

A Japanese-themed exhibition in Warwickshire takes a look at life in the country more than a century ago.

It does though seem a bit confusing. Journey Through Japan is a touring exhibition on loan from Horniman Museum & Gardens in London, complemented with some work from Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum’s own collection, for the show at the gallery.

It is described in the press release as a selection of “intricate and beautiful lantern slide photographs taken in the early 1900s which allow you to experience the stunning landscape of Japan during that era”, taken by Marjorie Bell and her cousin Leslie, when they travelled around the country in 1903 for two months. They had left Marjorie’s home on a sheep station in Victoria, Australia, to travel with her mother Hester.

The information in the gallery said Marjorie, who was only 13 at the time, had her photos processed in Japanese studios. She wrote a detailed diary, and the pictures in the exhibition have her interesting descriptive captions alongside them relating to the image.

What causes confusion however is that some of the photos were clearly not taken by Marjorie and her cousin, which raises the question of whether any of them were, and why this isn’t specified. (See bottom and the helpful comment below). There is even one illustrating people in Japanese costume of the day in snow, when Marjorie wasn’t there.

There is one attractive picture of a young family, the oldest child carrying a baby on her back, and Marjorie’s comment is that this was something they saw frequently amongst young children. Some other young children are featured and after Marjorie’s diary quote about children, there is a comment that she may not have seen children this poor which raises the issue that she couldn’t have taken that photo.

She travelled to the popular island of Miyajima and there is a photograph of people at work, with hand-pulled carts, big straw hats to keep off the sun, and young children accompanying them. The famous entrance gate to the Itsu-kushima shrine, which appears to float on the water when the tide is in also featured.

Some dancers in a hotel are shown, and there are a number of attractive countryside photographs; a huge lake, and some gushing waterfalls in very green and tree-filled countryside, a part of Japan not so often pictured. An avenue of enormously-high bamboo trees has a couple of people wandering down the middle to show the scale, and in Nara small deer wander around waiting to be fed, the same as today. In this image a brightly-coloured patch of orange leaves on a tree catches the eye. Nagoya Castle stands proud and attractive, five storeys high, and some streets capture people, shops (with huge signs outside showing what they sold) at this period.

A photo of Tokyo is very different from today, with lots of low-level buildings and fields, but a sumo wrestling match looks similar.

In Nikko, Marjorie’s diary commented that she wished she’d been able to see the attractive red bridge which had been washed away in high waters – so the picture of the red bridge intact was clearly taken by someone else.

In one of the last ones, Mount Fuji is artistically reflected in a lake where there is a solitary fisherman.

The confusion over how many or whether any of these photos are taken by the young Marjorie detracts from simply being able to enjoy these attractive moments from this period in the country’s history.

keisai-eisen

The gallery has added some of its own Japanese-related items to the exhibition too. These include some dolls, an Oriental-building shaped box, and a Satsuma jar, with an attractive picture on top of a bird taking flight.

There are also a number of woodblock prints, including several by Kikugawa Eizan, on showing what is described as a tipsy girl dropping her drinking cup, and also a couple by Kitagawa Utamomo II depicting a high-class courtesan being escorted through a crowd by a servant and her apprentices. They are all worth seeing and it’s good they have been given a chance to come out of the stores.

oriental-box*It has since become clear none of the photographs were by Marjorie but from the Horniman Museum’s own collection of lantern slides,  taken by Frederick Horniman himself.

Blurred lines and bold colours shape Hichmough retrospective

dictionary-of-silences

Colin Hitchmough, Dictionary of Silences (Aurora Bognorealis), 2015, acrylic on canvas

A display of bold and sometimes baffling works fills a Warwickshire gallery, showing many work’s from an artist’s long career.
Dictionary of Silences is a retrospective of paintings by Colin Hichmough, who lived in Leamington for many years, and whose works are now being shown in the Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum until January 8.

Hitchmough studied fine art at Liverpool College of Art in the late 1960s, and then Birmingham College of Art. He then worked in Rugby for three years, before moving to Leamington where he lived until 2009, most of the time teaching at Warwickshire College. He also taught on the Fine Art Degree Course at Leamington Warwickshire College and the University of Central England. He is married with two sons, and now lives with his wife on the West Sussex coast.

This exhibition shows works dating from the 1970s to the present day.

In a well-written and attractive brochure to go with the exhibition, senior curator Chloe Johnson writes that “the ideas underpinning Hitchmough’s works are varied, but they deal with one single, complex concern: the notion of painting”.

new-the-people-s-flag-version

Colin Hitchmough, Flag, 1982, acrylic on canvas, collection: Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum

He was also exploring the physical materials used in painting, and began to suspend canvases like banners or flags rather than stretching them. In the 1980s the focus switched apparently to the surface of paintings and fluid brush work, and in the 1990s to box-like shapes, or “containers for ideas”.

The People’s Flag from 1982 is a big mostly black canvas with white stripes, and another from 1972 is blue and textured, looking like denim, with an almost tie-dye look to it. Untitled from 1971 is the earliest work in this show, and takes up one wall of the gallery, a T-shaped work with bits pulled up and held there, subverting the idea of the flat canvas.

New York House from 2001 is very different, mostly black with a six dark grey and white, sharp-sided rectangles painted in the bottom.

new-york-house

Colin Hitchmough, NY House, 2001, acrylic on canvas

Terrapins and some similar works combine wood and canvas with sticky substances to create things that look organic and wholly fake at the same time.

Small silences from 2014 is a series of small works with parallel hand-drawn black lines stacked up like papers, or further apart to change the unity of the work. This is one of the works inspired by a holiday visit where Hitchmough misheard a guide talking about what he thought was a Dictionary of Silences, and the lines represent piled up canvases. The Dictionary of Silences painting is large and black, with imposing white blurred lines across it.

It’s an interesting exhibition which in many ways I struggled with at face value, but Chloe’s writing and the useful information on the gallery walls brought more knowledge and understanding to what is a large body of work, in more ways than one.

Wartime works show different side to secret camouflage artists

Moss- camo factory buildings

Colin Moss, Camouflaged Factory Buildings, c.1939-1941, pencil and watercolour on paper, LSAG&M (Courtesy of the artist’s estate)

 

The wartime paintings of a secret group of artists drafted in to help keep the military mission safe during the Second World War are on show at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum.

Concealment and Deception: The Art of the Camofleurs of Leamington Spa 1939-1945 tells how during the war many artists were brought to the town to work on developing camouflage for strategically important installations. The works in the exhibition are a mixture of their depictions of this work, and paintings and drawings they did on their down time, presumably to keep themselves busy while away from home. Some of the latter depict the local scenery, and others the area under attack.

Evelyn Dunbar’s Convalescing Nurses Making Camouflage shows the women working hard on table and floor to put together khaki-coloured cloth.

Dorothy Annan’s The Parade, Leamington Spa, 1944, shows the area just up from the Pump Room Gardens and is instantly recognisable, though it’s notable the streets are full of walking people and cyclists rather than cars. Stephen Bone’s Clarendon Street from 1940 shows the attractive street covered in snow, and Christopher Ironside (father of renowned agony aunt Virginia) did a watercolour of Lansdowne Circus, the attractive houses sporting taped-up windows to guard against blasts. Janey Ironside drew evacuees in Leamington, a sad looking boy and girl in outsize clothes.

Some works give hints of what has been lost. There is a sketch by Dorothy Annan of a panel for the British Restaurant in Leamington, which was to be one of six by different artists. It is drawn with a strange perspective, showing familiar sights such as the Jephson Gardens and the Parade, but sadly the mural is lost. Mary Adshead’s Grace at the Sausage Hatch depicted a woman serving some unidentifiable food at the British Restaurant in Coventry, as two gaunt and desperate looking men queued.

There are a lot of works by Colin Moss, who had studied under Oskar Kokoshka, including Camouflaged Factory Building, 1939-41, depicting the building painted to try to blend in with the ground from above. But he also did more landscape works, including House Seen From Picket Fence, and a cabbage field. They are in varied styles, influenced by colourful expressionism and his lifelong interest in depicting ordinary life. Danger Deep Water shows a wonky sign around a pool and bare trees, with a bombed out shed behind. The Big Tower shows a tower he painted in camouflage paint – and then painted in this picture.

Rodney Burn did watercolour cartoons often pointing out ironies of war; in one a group gather around a tiny cabbage, saying it’s just the start, a reference to the Dig for Victory idea. Robin Darwin, who went on to lead the Royal College of Art, painted the spraying of an airfield to disguise it as a field, and Edwin La Dell painted The Camouflage Workshop itself, a dark room with men peering at designs on desks.

Yunge-Btaeman Viewing TankJames Yunge-Bateman, The Outside Viewing Tank: Directorate of Camouflage, Naval Section, 1943, oil on canvas © Imperial War Museums

Unbelievably, Leamington also became the base for the naval camouflage unit, with a pool to test things – a slightly surreal painting by James Yunge-Bateman shows The Outside Viewing Tank, with what looks like a giant woman wrist-deep in the water with a tiny boat next to her.

It’s an excellent and fascinating exhibition, showing works by artists who went on to bright careers but who left behind these wonderful artistic reminders of their war time life in Leamington.

*On until October 16.

More top exhibitions to view in Coventry, Leamington and Stratford

 

Douglas Gordon exhibition

Douglas Gordon & Philippe Parreno Zidane, A 21st-Century Portrait Courtesy Anne Lena Films and Naflastrengir 2006
I must be going soft in my old age, three more exhibitions seen in three days, and I liked all three.
They will be reviewed at a later date in the Coventry Telegraph, but I wanted to give you early notice they’re there and worth seeing.

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Coventry and Warwickshire offer the best in big-name art shows

Rego
Paula Rego, The Bride’s Secret Diary, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, Rugby Borough Council © Paula Rego
THIS spring the London art world features a host of big-name exhibitions – but you can avoid the crowds and still see some excellent works in the Coventry and Warwickshire area.
In London, you can be sure to be in a big crowd seeing exhibitions of works by David Hockney, Lucian Freud, Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama, and shortly the Bauhaus design exhibition.
But at Compton Verney there’s lesser-known Gainsborough landscapes on show, plus in Into the Light great works by Renoir, Cezanne, Sisley, Monet, Whistler, Pisarro and lots more great artists. And although you pay to get in, there’s also the great permanent collection, with the naïve art on the top floor offering lots of treats.
Rugby Art Gallery and Museum has all the fantastic Rugby Collection on show for the first time, 175 items, including a good selection of women artists – Paula Rego, Bridget Riley, Prunella Clough, Maggi Hambling – and other well-known names such as Leon Kossoff, Bryan Wynter, Graham Sutherland and Lucian Freud. It would be mad to miss it. (see a full review in the Coventry Telegraph on May 4)

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