Saturday, 31 August 2013

September Très Riches Heures

The month of September is considered to be the most famous of the calendar images. The grapes are being harvested by the peasants and carried into the beautifully detailed Château de Saumur, which remarkably looks almost the same today. One of the peasant men is busy eating some grapes and licking the juice from his fingers. The peasant lady standing beside him looks pregnant but I think it may be because she has bundled her dress up under her apron. The Limbourg brothers, who painted the manuscripts, show their sense of humour with an amusing rear view of a peasant. In the blue tympanum are the star signs for Virgo and the scales for Libra. The chariot of the sun forever making it's yearly cycle through the heavens in the centre.
Château de Saumur is located in the town of Saumur, in the Maine-et-Loire.  It was originally constructed in the 10th century by Theobald l, Count of Blois, as a fortified stronghold against the Norman plunderers. It overlooks the confluence of the Loire and the Thouet. In 1026 it came into the hands of Fulk Nerra, Count of Anjou, who bequeathed it to his Plantagenet heirs. Following its destruction in 1067 the castle was rebuilt during the last quarter of the 12th century by Henry ll of England. The September Très Riches Heures shows the Château as it looked in 1412 when the Limbourg brothers painted the manuscript for their patron, the Duc de Berry.
Month of October can be found here.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Yearly cycle of two Rowan Trees

The Rowan Trees blossom is sweetly scented, much loved by bees and insects. This summer the trees were literally buzzing with bee activity as they collected the pollen.
There is a Scottish tradition surrounding the growing of Rowan Trees in gardens, especially at the front of the property, which we first discovered when we were living there. One of them is the protection of the household, and in the Highlands branches of rowan trees were burnt before people's houses, so as to keep witches away.
Some of the rowan tree's magic and protective qualities may stem from the fact that there is a small five pointed star, or pentagram, opposite the stalk of each berry; pentagrams have long been considered symbols of protection. The berries' red colour is also claimed to be the best protective colour against enchantment. Druids used both the berries and the bark of the rowan tree for dyeing the garments that they wore at lunar ceremonies.
The berries are edible, but we let the birds have ours - they love them. They are very rich in vitamins and if using them they should be picked following the first frost. They can be used for making jam, jelly and wine.
Our trees were already planted in the garden when we arrived, but we like them and enjoy the way they evolve during the seasons.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Syon Park and House

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland - by Caneletto
We used to lived just down the road from the Duke of Northumberland's Alnwick castle, which most famously took the starring role of Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films. Not so familiar is Syon Park and House, the London home of the Dukes of Northumberland for over 400 years. Having said that it has featured in numerous films, and TV historical dramas - The Madness of King George, The Wings of the Dove, Emma, The Avengers, Gosford Park, Love in a Cold Climate, to name but a few. It sits in its own parkland literally across the River Thames from Kew Gardens, and when visiting it is hard to believe that it is barely 10 miles from central London.
Syon House
When we left Strawberry Hill ( previous post) we travelled on to Syon House. No interior photographs were allowed in the house, these are via their website.
The 1st Duke and Duchess were determined to make their mark on Syon Park and instructed Robert Adam, the Scottish Architect to completely redesign the interior of the house. Adams refurbished the house in the Neo-classical style, and it is said that at Syon the Adam style was actually initiated. The house is feted as Adam's earliest English masterpiece.
The Great Hall was based on a Roman Basilica - Adam's aim was to create a palace of Græco-Roman splendour to welcome the Duke's guests.
Opposite the entrance door to the Great Hall is another doorway leading out into an enclosed courtyard.
Leading from the Great Hall, the Ante Room is in great contrast. Decorated in a rich riot of coloured marble and statues of gilded gods supported on antique green marble coloumns which look down on the scagliola floor.
The ceiling of the Red Drawing Room has 239 medallions painted by Cipriani. The room also houses a very rare survival, an Adam designed carpet, signed and dated by the maker Thomas Moore in 1769. Crimson silk from Spitalfields makes a rich backdrop. The silk probably having been made by the Huguenots who fled from France at the end of the 17th century into the 18th century. It is possible to just make out a Sir Peter Lely painting of King Charles l and his second son, the Duke of York.
King Henry Vlll - by Hans Holbein the Younger
There is a rather gory story about King Henry Vlll connected with Syon House. In 1547, the King's coffin was brought to Syon on its way to Windsor for burial. It burst open during the night and in the morning dogs were found licking up the remains!!! This was regarded as a divine judgement for the King's desecration of Syon Abbey.
Adam's genius is revealed in this 136ft Long Gallery. Its original Jacobean wood panelling was replaced by delicate plasterwork and "finished in a style to afford variety and amusement" especially for the ladies. From the eleven windows there is a wonderful view over the last tidal water-meadow on the river Thames.

The 200 acres of parkland were designed by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown over 20 years from 1750. There are 40 acres of gardens and an ornamental lake. However, the crowning glory of the gardens is the Great Conservatory. The 3rd Duke commissioned Charles Fowler to build it in 1826, the first of its kind to be built out of gunmetal, Bath stone and glass. This conservatory inspired Joseph Paxton in his designs for the Crystal Palace.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Strawberry Hill

"It is a plaything house.......and it is the prettiest bauble you ever saw." Horace Walpole, June 1747
Walpole was the dilettante son of Britain's first Prime Minister and author of the first horror novel, The Castle of Otranto.
I visited England's elegant and eccentric Georgian Gothic revival house two years ago - before the latest restoration project 2012-2014. The Fine Art Society I belong to had secured a special opening for us. However, my photos have been languishing in 'iPhotos' until I saw a post on Walpole by Erika at the blog Parvum Opus, which motivated me into resurrecting them.
Horace Walpole took a lease on a small 17th century cottage with 5 acres in Twickenham a short distance from the River Thames. The following year he decided to purchase the cottage with the intention of rebuilding it to his own specification. It is claimed that Strawberry Hill was the starting point of Gothic Revival as the house was the first to be built from scratch without any existing medieval fabric.
This is the window to Walpole's "Waiting Room" which now houses a small gift shop
Sadly Walpole's eccentric and unique style on the inside of Strawberry Hill was stripped of virtually all its contents in the first half of the 19th century. This became known as the "Great Sale" and was held within the grounds of the house.
For over 30 years Walpole assembled what was the first collection of stained glass in Britain - English medieval and Tudor pieces, 16th and 17th century roundels from the Low Countries - all of his collection was installed in the windows at Strawberry Hill. 
roundels of 16/17th century glass from the Low Countries
Robert Adam fireplace in Walpole's Round Room - the Round Room was inspired by the tomb of Edward the Confessor at Westminster Abbey.
"improved by Mr Adam"
showing spectacular scagliola marble which has been cleaned and re-gilded
Adam's ceiling for the Round Room

Walpole wanted visitors to Strawberry Hill to have a theatrical experience, but there is one constant - his love of and fascination with medievalism. Here heraldic beasts masquerade as a newel posts all the way up the stairs.
Looking up the stair well - a light made from fragments of Walpole's stained glass collection, and his eccentric newel posts.
Beautifully restored the delicacy of this Gothic fireplace looks as if would be at home in a fairytale castle
The Gallery is a total knockout when you first enter. The ceiling design, made of papier mâché, was taken from a side aisle in Westminster Abbey, and it has been restored using gold leaf. Wool and silk damask wall coverings were specially made to match the original. The wood inlaid parquetry flooring had just been restored and was awaiting its final polish when I visited.
"the solemn air of a rich chapel"
Horace Walpole's description of his Tribune room which was built to house his most valuable treasures. Only the most privileged of visitors were allowed to witness the priceless collection upon entering through these locked bars.
Yes, I entered. 
It has been good revisiting Strawberry Hill, many thanks Erika for jogging my memory.
The Great Sale held in 1842 saw Walpole's collections dispersed world wide. The sale lasted 30 days. 
In the early part of the 20th century Wilmarth Lewis an American collector, gathered together as much Walpoliana as he could find and later bequeathed it to Yale University to form the Lewis Walpole Library at Farmington, near Newhaven, Connecticut.
Let the man of letters have the last word.
"In truth my collection was too great already to be lodged humbly." 
Horace Walpole (1719 - 1797) painted by Rosalba Carriera - a Venetian Rococo painter

Friday, 16 August 2013

Summer in February

Dame Laura Knight painter 1877 - 1970
This post has been sitting in my drafts for the last 6 months, but with the release of the film about some of the Newlyn artists this is perhaps a good time to show it. I am also on a mission to feature more women painters, and Dame Laura Knight is right up there as one of my favourites.
The film "Summer in February" is set in the stunning Cornish landscape where the colony of painters lived and worked at the beginning of the 20th century. The film is not on general release but can be seen in specialised cinemas and theatres. However, these are readily found on the internet, and when I did a search I managed to find a location within a reasonable distance of where we live. In the film Laura and her husband Harold feature prominently. If you have not been to Cornwall then this film will entice you to visit especially when you see the breathtaking shots of the sweeping sands of Porthcurno, and Lamorna Cove.
Self Portrait
Laura was born in my home county of Derbyshire to a family that struggled; her father died shortly after her birth. At Nottingham Art School she met Harold Knight - painter, her future husband, whose work she greatly admired.
In 1907 they moved to the artists' colony in Newlyn, Cornwall where she painted in an Impressionist style.
The Beach
The Beach was one of the first paintings Laura did when she moved to Cornwall. Typically depicting the Cornish beaches it was widely admired by other artists and also the general public.
At the end of the First World War, the Knights moved to London, where Laura met many of the famous ballet dancers of the day, some of her most admired work dates from this period.
The Ballet Shoe
The Dressing Room at Drury Lane
In 1929 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and in 1936 was the first women elected to the Royal Academy. During the second World War, she was made an official war artist, following which she also became the official artist at the Nuremberg Trials.
A Balloon Site, Coventry
Ruby Loftus screwing a Breech Ring
Take-Off: Interior of a Bomber Aircraft
The Nuremberg Trials
In the 1920s Laura was struck by the visual potential of circus life following a visit to Bertram Mills Circus in Olympia which then led on to her enthusiasm for painting gypsies.
Circus Matinee
With her gift of establishing friendships with her subjects she was invited to join a group of gypsies at their encampment on Iver Heath. Here she did several of her gypsy paintings considered remarkable for their unsentimental treatment.
Gypsies, Caravan and Pony
Romany Belles
Young Gypsies
Hop-Picking Granny Knowles - An Old Hand
Women interested in art, and women artists, have all too few role models - Laura Knight is one of the most inspiring.
all images courtesy BBC paintings website