Warwickshire

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.

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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

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Changing face of BBC comedy is a good lesson in laughter

Steptoe and Son, Harry H. Corbett as Harold Steptoe, Wilfrid Brambell as Albert Steptoe & Duncan Wood with various cast members & studio crew, 1965, Copyright BBC

Steptoe and Son, 1965, Copyright BBC

The developing face of comedy on the BBC from the 1950s to the present are examined in an exhibition in Warwickshire.

BBC Faces of Comedy at Compton Verney contains nearly 100 photographs from the BBC archives, and it’s amazing how many from the earlier section are still household names, or popular faces from repeats, today.

The early selection mostly of course covers BBC radio, and starts in the 1930s. A 1938 shot shows the actor Carey Grant guest starring on Band Wagon. The star of It’s That Man Again Tommy Handley is shown standing on his head for a promotional photo to look suitably zany.

Joyce Grenfell and Tommy Cooper, complete with fez, are in later images and there’s a very young Bruce Forsyth from 1959 starring in Educating Archie. Amazingly, this was a successful radio programme featuring a ventriloquist’s doll, but it only lasted a year when it moved to TV as viewers complained they could see the ventriloquist’s lips move!

The Frankie Howerd Variety Show from 1951 features him and Eric Sykes hamming it up, and Howerd pretending (presumably) to be asleep in a script conference. The Goon Show stars sit almost one on top of each other for a photo pulling daft faces, and Hancock’s Half Hour is represented by a lounging Hancock having his hair combed by Hattie Jacques with the other stars sat around attentively.

A young Morecambe and Wise are featured in conversation in 1957with Morecambe dangling a pipe from his lips; apparently their first attempt to transfer to TV was unsuccessful, but they came back three years later for another go and the rest was history.

Ken Dodd had perfected the look he’s had ever since by 1958, with his mad hair and dazed expression, and Kenneth Williams was looking camply askance in a Beyond our Ken picture from 1958.

These early photos differ from the more recent in that the images are mostly more outrageously posed and staged, with the comedians trying to appear the same way they put themselves over on radio or early TV. The later ones sometimes show the actors in character, but others are behind the scenes or during down time.

Lifes Too Short- Ricky Gervais - Stephen Merchant- production shot- S1 Ep1  2011- Copyright BBC

Life’s Too Short, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant production shot, 2011, Copyright BBC

They still represent the passing decades though; there’s The Liver Birds pictured in 1969 with their hairstyles and clothes very much of the time, several photos from Dad’s Army, and Are You Being Served?, showing different sets in the studio. Fawlty Towers has the stars very much in character, as does the Young Ones. In Only Fools and Horses the stars are shown relaxing on set and being filmed on a boat, and the Absolutely Fabulous stars are shown in costume but off duty in Paris. Ricky Gervais and his University of Warwick-graduate co-writer Stephen Merchant are shown laughing in a studio.

Some issues are dealt with, including the fact that Ain’t It Half Hot Mum from the 1970s is not generally reshown like other shows from the decade as one of the Indian characters was a white man blacking up. However more recent shows such as Goodness Gracious Me and Citizen Khan show that comedy is becoming more representative of the population.

It’s an interesting exhibition which shows changes in society on several issues.

An age of dreams and designs is brought back for Compton Verney summer

Cona Rex Coffee Machine - Estate of Abram Games

Cona Rex Coffee Machine – Estate of Abram Games

A time when Britain was trying to shape a new future through stylish designs and dreams of a better life is being revisited for an exhibition.

Britain in the Fifties: Design and Aspiration at Compton Verney will be a trip back to the past for those old enough to have lived through it, and who may have their own feelings about a decade when post-war food rationing did not entirely end until 1954.

Some items will also seem familiar as they enjoy a new popularity through the retro and vintage craze. Others still lasted a long time; there is a display of the original illustrations for the Ladybird book Shopping with Mother by Harry Wingfried from 1958 but the book, with its social and gender stereotyping as noted in the gallery caption, was still popular in the 1970s.

Abram Games is one designer who appears several times. There are his original sketches for the Festival of Britain logo, and the logo itself, along with other festival souvenirs, pamphlets, a scarf and a model of the skylon, the huge structure Winston Churchill apparently ordered to be taken down as it reminded him of the socialist aspirations of the previous Labour government.

Image of Mobiles fabric ref. 220035 Image courtesy of Sanderson www.sanderson-uk.com

Image of Mobiles fabric ref. 220035 Image courtesy of Sanderson http://www.sanderson-uk.com

 

There are photographs of some of the new homes which were built, focusing on West Point in Allesley Village, Coventry, which still exists. One gallery is hung with beautiful colourful textile designs including influences in fruit and vegetable patterns from William Morris in one by Terence Conran. Another by Robert Stewart oddly features a man riding a fish.

Household gadgets are interesting for their innovation or not – a mechanical potato peeler does not seem to have stood the test of time. A coffee maker designed by Abram Games looks like something elegant but also straight out of a science lab. Ken Wood turns out to be a real person with an electric toaster on show and there is a toast rack by Robert Welch, whose firm also lives on today. There is a table and sideboard set with beautifully elegant crockery by firms including Derby and Midwinter.

In another room, you are invited to sit in a mock up of a 1950s living room to read the newspaper story about the climbing of Everest while watching on a replica TV the Queen’s coronation. More attractive crockery is on show including a cucumber plate.

Elegant looking cars, hiding simple designs, are celebrated through images of vehicles including a Triumph TR2 from 1953, made at Canley, Coventry.

A display of attractive dresses from Horrockses feature an unusual name as one designer; Graham Sutherland took time out from his Coventry Cathedral tapestry design to come up with a printed design dress for Liberty which showed busts of classical characters face to face, and a diagonal neckline and side-buttoning bodice.

Cathedral designer Basil Spence also created a poster promoting rail travel for British Rail, showing his design for it in 1967, several years before it was officially opened. Abram Games also designed a poster showing the shape of the country in railway livery.

Larger items on show include a Mini car, and a small caravan created as a gift for the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

The exhibition also draws interesting attention to social change – 90 per cent rented homes in the 1940s, to 60 per cent home ownership by 1959, and the fact that many apparently labour-saving devices actually kept women in the kitchen more. Sadly it seems design itself wasn’t enough to produce massive social change in certain areas.

*On until October 2, 2016.