Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Wimpole Hall I

When we returned from Wales I spent a few days with the bf - one of our excursions was to Wimpole Hall.  As the Cambridgeshire edition of 'The Buildings of England' points out it is the county's 'most spectacular' Country House.  It is certainly the largest, though as Pevsner also points out the architecture is domestic in scale; the fireworks are on the inside.  And it is those fireworks - a chapel by James Gibbs and James Thornhill, and rooms by Sir John Soane that were the reason for our visit.
Wimpole Hall sits on the southern slopes of the clay uplands that make up the majority of SW Cambridgeshire; to the south the house looks out over the wide, gentle valley of the Rhee to the chalk hills of Hertfordshire. (Hertfordshire, I think, has some of the most beautiful country in England.)
The hall is the focus of the remains of a vast and monumental Baroque layout of avenues - south, west and north - the work of  Charles Bridgeman.  The longest avenue stretches south from house for two miles to the old Roman road 'Ermine Street' - in the distance, half way down, is an octagonal pool that I can't believe didn't have a fountain in it. To the north, the avenue, which can never have been very long due to the hills rising in steps behind the house, was partly removed by Capability Brown to make one of his most successful, and beautiful Landscape Parks; the axial vista being closed by a folly, a sham ruined castle designed originally by Sanderson Miller and erected by James Essex of Cambridge, the architect and antiquarian.  In the early 19th century Humphrey Repton, in keeping with the then Picturesque theory, began a process which has restored some of the original formality to the gardens immediately around the house.

The building of the house has been a long and complicated story.  It goes something like this: the original house, which forms the central 3 storey section, was started in the 1640s.  It was a triple pile house of brick and stone.  In the early years of the 1700s it was extended to the east and west in a sympathetic style by James Gibbs for the Tory politician Lord Harley partly to hold Lord Harley's vast collection of books and artifacts - his book collection alone consisted of over 50,000 items. Gibbs's library is on extreme right of the photograph. In the 1740s the Neo-Palladian architect Henry Flitcroft ('Burlington Harry') refaced the original part of the house, adding the three bay windows to the north front.  Further additions, including a tower, were made in the nineteenth century by H E Kendall, but most of those, including a tower, have been swept away with the exception of the central chimney stack.

To the east of the house, and the Neo-baroque stables by Kendall, is a model farm designed by Sir John Soane, 1794-5 (which was, for me, surprisingly vernacular); the octagonal dairy (inside like a Medieval English chapter house)and the adjoining farmhouse however are later, 1860 and 1862.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Belton III Ss Peter & Paul

'Built to the memory of God, and the glory of the Cust family.'  So said Henry Cust.  And with some justification.  This small, rather pretty country church is crammed with monuments to the family, some the work of internationally important sculptors like Canova, Westmacot and Marochetti, so crammed as to be a distraction from the divine.  And I suppose that's what makes churches in Britain, esp England and Wales such a delight to visit, the sudden discovery of something by somebody famous standing there amongst all the detritus of the parochial - stacks of chairs and notice boards and flower vases.  A free art gallery in fact.

The church, which is reached from the house through a lovely set of wrought iron gates, has only one aisle (to the north), which has been extended out like a transept to provide more space for the monuments.  There is another picture of the church, from the south, in the first Belton post.  Of the monuments I was most interested in the Baroque, which are here (in order) by Edward Stanton & Christopher Horsnaile (x2) William Stanton and Henry Cheere.  The final image shows amongst others the tomb by Marochetti and monument (standing woman) by Canova

Works on Paper: Three Exhibitions at the Fitzilliam Museum, Cambridge

To Cambridge on Friday and three concurrent exhibitions at the Fitzwilliam Museum.  (There is a fourth: 'Treasured Possessions' which the bf and I saw last month.  Some wonderful objects but a little diffuse.)  All three are about work on paper; watercolour and printmaking.  And all three are outstanding exhibitions; the works on display all taken from the Museum's own rich collection of work.  The largest of the three, 'Watercolour:  Elements of Nature' is a brisk exploration of the use of watercolour as a medium from the Renaissance (the most amazing miniatures) to the 20th century. (I did the exhibition in reverse, but the experience was none the worse for that.) Watecolour is often seen as the British medium, not surprisingly then the majority of work on display comes from these Isles. All the famous names are there: Turner, Girtin, De Wint, Cotman, Palmer.  The last was represented by one work: 'The Magical Apple Tree' c 1830, a work of visionary intensity, shining out like an icon.  An equally intense vision was offered to us by Ruskin who is represented here by four works. 'In the Pass of Killiekrankie' is a master work; incredibly small (I didn't realize how small)  and worked in a way that seemed to link it with the Elizabethan miniatures that open the show.  Superb.  Not enough is made of Ruskin the artist.  Poor chap only seems to be remembered these days for his sex life, or lack thereof.  Next to Ruskin's work Seargeant's three, sun drenched watercolours seem facile.  The only real disappointment were the watercolours by Pisarro.  They really were poor.  A little disappointed too, if I'm honest, with the Paul Nash, as I admire deeply his oils and am drawn to his ideas.
Across the landing is the second watercolour exhibition: 'Ruskin's Turner's', that is the twenty-five Turner watercolours Ruskin bequeathed to Cambridge University to inspire the students. Lucky students, as this is another schatzkammer of good things.  It is rare opportunity to see these works together as Ruskin, concerned about the conservation of these wonders, laid down strictures about their display.  And wonders they are: small, vibrant and intense and altogether very beautiful.
Finally 'Designed to Impress; Highlights from the Print Collection' and like 'Watercolour: Elements of Nature' a lightning journey through the history of the print form the Renaissance to the present day.  The work on display is of an equal quality to the other two exhibitions.  There is work by Durer - the famous 'Melancholia I' - Rubens, Blake, Wadsworth and Munch among others. There seems to be an emphasis on the grotesque and the strange - though that is not a negative criticism. Something uncanny, even occult. The highlights however for me were a Rubens, and, surprisingly for I didn't know he was also an artist, a work by the Royalist champion Prince Rupert of the Rhine.  A work of real quality.

It has been a week of Turners in fact.  The bf and I were in Lincoln on Tuesday and we did a summary tour of the Usher Gallery where there are two exhibitions running: 'Lincolnshire's Great Exhibition' and 'Picture the Poet'.  In addition to works by Lowry and Stubbs there is Turner's famous watercolour of Stamford.  A second visit, I think, is required.

Watercolour: Elements of Nature runs until 27th September 2015
Ruskin's Turners runs until 4th October 2015
Designed to Impress runs until 27th September 2015

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Belton House II the Interior

The French influence continues inside with the plan: two public rooms in the central axis (Hall and Saloon), with three apartments of two to three rooms (withdrawing room, bedchamber and closet) on each floor with subsidiary service spaces.  That, apparently, is very close to the French manner of planning a country house, like Le Vau's Vaux-le-Vicomte.  There is a touch of Baroque too to the original rooms with their luxuriant carvings by Edmund Carpenter and possibly Grinling Gibbons, just as there are little Baroque touches to the exterior: the curve of the door pediment crossing the string course on the garden (N) front, and the carving in the pediments.  Nothing though to frighten the horses.  The paneling is a throwback to the Tudor period. The greatest room in Belton is the chapel, but alas the blinds were down and it was just too dim to photograph, so I can't show you fantastic the Wren style reredos, which is of wood, painted to resemble marble. Looking back through the photos it's become apparent to me that as we go round houses like Belton I tend to photograph the most architectural thing in the room i.e. the fireplace.  I've tried to keep the appearance of the fireplace to a minimum in the following images.  The two Neo-classical rooms are by Wyatt, the first (1778) replacing the Great Dining Room, and the the second (1776) replacing one of the withdrawing rooms. The fireplace in the last picture is by Sir Edwin Lutyens and came from another house.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Abergavenny Priory

Our final port-of-call on what was a busy day was Abergavenny - a lovely market town in Mid-Wales.  The priory church is full of good things: a good set of late Medieval choir stalls, a plethora of tombs (Medieval and later) and a remarkable sculpture, in wood, of the sleeping Jesse.  It is about life-size and would have formed the base of a monumental sculptural group culminating in a figure of Christ - a 'Tree of Jesse'.  It is a rare and fortunate survivor.  Of the church the crossing, transepts and chancel (with chapels) are Medieval; the nave is Victorian replacement for the replacement of the Medieval structure.  The nave is not too bad, rather G F Bodley in style.  Like the priory at Kidwelly that we visited last year it was founded, along with a castle, by a Norman aristocrat (in this case Hamelin de Bohun) as part of Norman invasion and settlement of Wales.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Holiday IV Raglan Castle

Our next stop was the mighty Raglan Castle.  As far as Welsh castles go it is not as famous the great Edwardian castles, like Harlech or Caernarvon, however architecturally it gives them a run for their money.  It is a large and deeply accomplished Late Medieval design - a Perpendicular Gothic interpretation of Late Gothic French domestic design, both formidable and luxurious.  There is an outer and inner bailey, the latter consisting of two courtyards connected by the screens passage at the kitchen end of the Great Hall.  From the second courtyard access is gained by a bridge to the great donjon - 'The Yellow Tower of Gwent'.  Hexagonal in plan, it stands isolated in the outer bailey surrounded by its own moat and wall.  It was both the final place of refuge during a siege and a flanking defense for the main gate to the inner bailey.  After a long siege during the Civil War - like the rest of Wales it was a Royalist stronghold - the castle was dismantled, and thereafter left to decay.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Own work - Life Drawing XII

Two from the last life drawing class of the season.  Lessons resume in September.