Welcome to the first newsletter this year in which we can at last look forward with hope and start to plan the summer and autumn ahead.
Firstly we are delighted to be sending you information about our exhibition eARTh which will take place at the Brewhouse this summer from June 18th to September 12th. Attached is an application form for work to be submitted and details about the exhibition. The theme eARTh is a broad one and covers all natural aspects of the world we live in. Some of us have found ourselves drawn closer to the natural world over the last year, finding inspiration in one of the more unexpected consequences of lockdown. If anyone who wishes to exhibit is unable to download the form please let me know and I will put it in the post.
An Invitation to the Private View will be sent to you nearer the time.
Your committee met recently to work out our programme for the forthcoming months. Of course all events are subject to government requirements but in the hopes that the current roadmap will not change we are looking forward to welcoming you to an outdoor social occasion on Wednesday July 7th, in which we will combine our AGM, with a Picnic & (optional) Painting Day at Bulford Cottage, Staple Fitzpaine.
We hope that this will give us an opportunity to enjoy a social occasion together in lovely surroundings. (Ample shelter available in case of inclement weather!). Further details will be sent nearer the time. In the meantime please save this date!
We are hoping that two of the talks which had to be cancelled at the end of last year will take place this autumn and we will send you these dates as soon as they are confirmed.
A generous Gift
We heard earlier this year from the family of John Foden, a longstanding friend and member of the Trust who sadly died in December 2019. John wished to donate some of his art collection to the Trust after his death and 10 of his artworks have now been received by the Trust, passed on to us by his family. We intend to include some of these works in the eARTh exhibition. We are deeply grateful to John and his family for this generous gift.
Finally we need to tell you about changes at SAGT. After working tirelessly for SAGT over the last 20 years Jeremy will be stepping down as chairperson at our next AGM in July.
It is Jeremy’s energy and vision that has steered the Trust since its beginnings and without him we would certainly not be where we are today, a vibrant community of artists and art lovers with links and partnerships with organisations across Somerset. We are naturally saddened that he will no longer be with us in the same way but recognise that other priorities in his life must take precedence.
Thankfully Jeremy is not leaving us completely and has promised to continue supporting us in the background giving us help and advice. We know this will be reassuring to those members to whom Jeremy has been the steady hand as well as visible presence of the Trust for so many years.
However the position of Chairperson of the Trust is therefore open, and if any member would like to step forward to take up the position and help guide us along the next phase of SAGT’s journey, we would be delighted to welcome you. Please do contact us.
In the meantime your committee will continue until a new chairperson is appointed, as we are permitted to do under our constitution.
With all good wishes, on behalf of the SAGT committee,
Welcome to Spring and welcome to another newsletter.
You will no doubt share the hope that as the current covid situation improves and we all become ‘jab reinforced’, life will get back to normal. If so, this will allow us to proceed with our SAGT programme including our summer exhibition.
Meanwhile as we all try to “Keep calm and carry on”…
In November 1941, Roy Plumley, an out of work actor and radio announcer, wrote to the BBC with an idea for a programme. In January 1942 the first of eight planned programs was broadcast under the title of ‘Desert Island Discs ‘…and the rest is on-going history.
It occurred to me that instead of taking music to a desert island, what if I were to take paintings? Any six paintings I wanted, regardless of constraints. Oh dear, the difficulty I found was not what to take, but what to leave out. In the end I settled upon a Desert Island Gallery. These then are the paintings and my reason for choosing them may interest you.
I have an odd connection with Alfred Wallis. I was born the day he died. It is of course fanciful to suppose that he passed his artistic baton to me, but I like that idea. I also like the fact that Wallis, an impoverished seafarer, was also a true naive artist. Painting with bits of cardboard and house paint, any image produced was always less important than the memory behind it. Swen Berlin, (a real bohemian), who first documented Wallis, told me that Wallis saw painting as a pastime and then saw the chance to make “A few bob” out of Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood, the modernist artists who ‘discovered’ him.
I have had many holidays in Cornwall – mainly Porthleven – and no trip to Cornwall passes without a visit to St Ives and a little pilgrimage along Back Street where Wallis lived. In the town one is reminded of him everywhere. The shop in the Tate has more Wallis themed merchandise. Sad then that he died a pauper. Incidentally one of the best places to see Wallis’s work is in Kettles Yard in Cambridge -highly recommended.
For me, any painting by Wallis would be a delight, but ‘Schooner under the Moon’ says a lot about Wallis. He just liked doing things his way, plain and simple. The art world still thinks otherwise.
The first time I saw an illustration of this painting, in an art book in the early 60’s, I liked it. I felt it conveyed more than the image. There is a tension in the painting. The tranquillity is at odds with the spaces in the composition. Of course once one has some knowledge about an artist and the context in which a work is created, other judgments come into play. When I did eventually see this version of ‘Studland Beach’ in the Tate, it did not disappoint. I like it even more now because of the controlled abstraction. (I always worry about total abstraction). It was modern in 1912 and to me, it still seems that way. A painting that keeps getting better.
On my desert island, this painting will remind me of a walk I did across the Sussex Downs from Eastbourne to Winchester. The route cut through Charlestone Farm and was an ideal excuse to exercise the mind and not the legs. Also Studland is an area I know fairly well having been on a rock climbing course in that area. However I know the Square and Compass pub at nearby Worth Maltravers, even better. Happy days and fond memories.
Sidney Nolan was the wild colonial boy of Australian art. He arrived on the Melbourne art scene at the Heide Art colony with little idea of what he wanted to do except paint. After experimenting with European influences Nolan literally saw the Australian light. His free spirited Ned Kelly series proved to be the perfect metaphor for Nolan himself.
In this painting a defiant Kelly turns his back on the world. But he does not ride off into the sunset. He rides out into adventures unknown. Nolan life was itself an adventure until he became a respectable. He died in England with Knighthood and the honour of being a member of the Order of Merit. Of course I preferred the early Nolan!
I have been fortunate to visit Australia several times – my eldest daughter lives there. This painting will remind me of our happy times travelling around visiting art galleries and sipping wine in the sun.
For the past 54 years I have lived in Somerset. It is truly a county of green hills and the Brandon Hills are perhaps the greenest? They are certainly my favourite walking area. It also happens to be area where Rachael Reckitt lived and worked for most of her life.
Some SAGT members may recall the Rachael Reckitt retrospective in 2001 in The County Museum. Her sculptures were shown in tandem at the Rural Life Museum in Street. These two exhibitions recognised the talent of an artist of energy and imagination. Proof of her abilities are on public display in number of West Country churches.
I once spent a delightful afternoon with Rachael Reckitt in her garden, discussing art in general. She was very modest about her abilities and her accomplishments. I found her open to all forms of art, largely she suggested, as a result of her training in the 1930’s at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art under Iain Macnab. Here she learnt lino cuttings and wood engraving. Her view was that a good design was the first requirement for the engraver and a good drawing the first requirement for the artist.
This woodcut depicts a scene still common in the Brandon Hills, -tight hedged lanes and small thatched or stone cottages set deep in a countryside given over to farming; everything connected to the land. A satisfying thought of Somerset.
How could I not choose a David Hockney, the most fêted artist of my generation? What has he not done? Printing, photography, stage design and a whole range of painting styles, (some embracing technology), they all demonstrate his abilities, imagination and work ethic.
Hockney’s colourful life is reflected in his work. It is a visual diary. ‘Nichols Canyon’ is one of his biggest and brightest acrylic painting. It is a departure from dazzling swimming pools and modernist architecture. It is a painting full of confidence. Hackney has immersed himself into a landscape that was then his home. It is a long way from grey Bradford. Now he is in a farmhouse in Normandy, still working and still smoking.
The wonderful thing about a painting like ‘Nichols Canyon’, is that it is that it provides a form of escapism. It triggers memories and one is transported to another place. Perfect on a desert island.
I have chosen this painting, not for conceit, but for the lifetime of memories it holds as I look back to my 20 year old self gazing into the future.
This painting, an oil on cardboard was done on impulse – sort of. I had no art training but had read a number of library books about art and artists. It seemed to me that all real artists painted a self-portrait, so I thought I should do one. Then, one evening, after work, I was wondering what to paint instead of a still life…and here is another one!
For many years I kept this painting in my attic. It seemed pretentious to have it on display. However when I acquired a posh antique guilt frame it seemed fitting (!), that I hang it in my home. At first my wife and children found it mildly amusing. Now no one notices me. Never mind, on my desert island I shall always have someone to talk to.
Welcome to our second Special Edition Newsletter of 2021.
Firstly, a big thank you to all those members who have sent in their membership subscriptions for this year. We are hopeful that in a few months’ time we will be able to put this year’s programme into action.
In her book ‘Wood and Garden’ (1899) that great gardener Gertrude Jekyll wrote ‘There is always in February some one day, at least, when one smells the yet distant, but surely coming, summer’. So this newsletter has a definite early spring theme, with contributions this month from Pat Bazley, Wendy Head and Anna Mullett. The early stirrings of spring bring personal reflections and observations, great paintings and a bit of history.
For many (though not exclusively) younger people, February means Valentine’s Day and is associated with love, though it was not always so. Amongst other things, St Valentine is also the patron saint of epileptics and beekeepers, the latter appropriate as it is often during February that bumble-bees make an appearance in our gardens.
There are actually several St Valentines but the one we celebrate was martyred in Rome on February 14th in the third century AD. According to The Golden Legend of 1260 Valentine was a ‘priest of great authority’ who tried to persuade the then Emperor Claudius II to turn to Christianity. Initially Claudius took a liking to him, but was persuaded by the provost in the city that he was dangerous, this in spite of Valentine having healed the provost’s daughter. Claudius subsequently had Valentine beheaded.
It is said that before he died Valentine wrote to the daughter he had befriended signing it ‘from your Valentine’. However no evidence exists of romantic celebrations on 14th February before the Middle Ages when it is believed the first link between St Valentine and love was made by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1375. In his poem called ‘The Parliament of Fowls’ he links the date of February 14th to the idea of love. He describes a group of birds coming together ‘on seynt valentynes day’ to choose a mate. After that the idea caught on.
Who is not enchanted by Monet’s paintings and particularly by this painting of ancient blossom trees which are valued so much for their beauty, and eventual crop? The craggy forms supported for yet another, hopeful, year.
A metaphor perhaps for our upturned lives during these Covid 19, blighted times. And for the support we are all giving, in our individual ways, for those we love, and for those who work ceaselessly for the future, healthy, and productive growth, of the human race.
Something envisioned in a different way, is this striking 20th century painting of a farming man with a spade, in Springtime!
The figure is reminiscent, to me, of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s painting, entitled ‘Spring’. Painted almost 500 years ago, it shows a community, working together, preparing the soils of Communal Gardens for the sowing of spring seeds, with burly men in the foreground. All working in harmony for the good of their community.
So many artists have painted beautiful representations of Spring. And just as Spring warms the heart and banishes Winter blues these paintings delight our vision. They awaken our memories of what is to come.
And when we are in the depths of winter blues, they show us inevitable progress, with hope of sunshine, warmth, beauty and loveliness, to come. Not of course that winter does not have its own special undeniable drama and beauty, like this oil of a sun-bright, snow filled day at Wellington Park.
At the beginning of 2020 David Hockney moved to the north of France to sit out the Covid crisis and paint his heart out.
This final painting is a joy to see and I offer you a glimpse of Spring to come. Do look him up and be cheered by what you see.
I wish I was an artist, but on some crucial neural pathway there is a “No Through Road” sign, preventing translation from eye to hand. Instead of committing images to paper I fall back on the minutiae of observation, and on touch. It seems that most of us have an affinity to one of the four main elements and of these, mine is earth. One of my earliest memories is of lying on our lawn, scratching at the grass with my finger until it released the smell of itself and the soil beneath.
On the 1st of February we entered Imbolc; Celtic Spring, and for many years I have found these seasons far more meaningful than our more familiar ones. At this moment in the year, even through spells of harsh weather, there is a sense of stirring energy on the ground that will not be supressed. This is when I fondly anticipate, and seek out, three particular flowers.
The sweetest harbinger of spring is the celandine, and I scan those hunkered down clumps of mottled leaves for the first sighting of an emerging stem, with its tight green bud atop. By now the sun is quite high in the sky and when it breaks through, for any length of time, an explosion of satin-shiny petals capture the light in a marvellous, heart-warming golden glow.
In my old garden, from around mid-January, I would search the ground often several times a day, until tiny yellow globes appeared on the surface. It never failed to evoke a smile, knowing that any day those star shaped aconites would also emit a yellow radiance to enliven even a gloomy day.
The last one announces itself a touch more slowly, with a couple of centimetres of grey spiky leaf, enclosing a furled and silken bud. Blink twice and sufficient light will have unwrapped that bud, to reveal a poised and elegant reticulata iris, often in dramatic purple.
For me, every plant has not only its recognisable form but also its unique spirit, which makes the diversity of approaches to botanical art so intriguing.
The twist of a leaf, the curve of a stem, the undulations of a branch are expressive of movement, even in stillness. Just as Matisse’s ‘La Danse’ lies motionless on its background yet its momentum sings in our veins.
I have always loved the feel of plants and find running my fingers over them irresistible: the grainy softness of a catkin, the frothiness of a meadow sweet, the corrugation of an ageing beech leaf all have their own special character and evoke an inner glossary of touch sensation.
At some point each spring I will find an unfrequented spot where I can kneel on the ground and bury my nose in a clump of sun-warmed primroses, inhaling their inimitable perfume and feeling the velvet petals on my skin. As the world re-awakens to a pall of grief that hangs over it, we can still find hope and joy around us, even in the crevices of walls and paving stones that are the backdrop to yet another daily trail around the block.
And welcome to our first “Special Edition Newsletter 2021”.
As our members can probably appreciate, our annual programme is set in the previous year. As we were still under the influence of “Covid-19”, the committee members felt a written format may be appropriate in lieu of our lectures for the first quarter of 2021. This has enabled us to proceed with or without Covid-19 restrictions. So, to start the year off this month, we welcome contributions from a few members, Sandra Spalding, David Smith, and Tami Boden-Ellis and guests with a loose “Scottish” thread. The arts may be celebrated & expressed in many ways and what better way than in music, dance, sculpture, & painting and here you will find a little bit of them all.
As we are in January and “Scotland” is our theme, we could not not have a bit or two about Robert Burns. From Liz Louis, Curator from the Scotland Galleries we understand; ‘There are surprisingly few contemporary portraits of Robert Burns (1759–1796) who is said to have been a rather reluctant sitter. This small picture by Alexander Nasmyth – on permanent display at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery – is now the best-known portrait of Scotland’s national bard.
Reproduced in almost every conceivable form from postage stamps to shortbread tins, it is now familiar across the world. Here we look at the poet, his portrait, and its painter. While Burns considered emigration, he wrote several of his finest poems: The Twa Dogs, The Cotter’s Saturday Night and To a Mouse all date from 1785. He hoped that by publishing his work, in the now famous Kilmarnock Edition of his poems (1786), he would raise the money to establish himself in Jamaica. But such was the success of the edition that he decided to remain in Scotland, and he was lionised by Edinburgh society.
It was while Burns was in Edinburgh that Nasmyth painted this portrait. Introduced to each other by their mutual acquaintance and patron Patrick Miller of Dalswinton, Burns and Nasmyth became good friends. The portrait was commissioned by the publisher William Creech to be engraved for a new edition of Burns’s poems. As Burns noted:
‘I am getting my phiz done by an eminent engraver, and, if it can be ready in time, I will appear in my book, looking like all other fools to my title page.’
By tradition, Nasmyth’s portrait was painted quickly and left unfinished as the artist was afraid of losing the likeness. While there are few hints of the complexities of Burns’s character, he is depicted as a lively and intelligent young man, set against a landscape background that evokes his Ayrshire roots. Walter Scott, who as a sixteen-year-old had met Burns briefly at an Edinburgh social gathering, later claimed that Nasmyth’s portrait had ‘diminished’ the poet’s features. According to Scott, Burns was ‘strong and robust’ with a certain ‘dignified plainness and simplicity’.
Nasmyth’s image is indeed a rather summary portrayal of Scotland’s most famous son, but this modest work has helped to shape our modern perception of Burns and the qualities of democracy, generosity and honesty that we now associate with his personality and his writing.
Robert Burns was born at Alloway in Ayrshire, the son of a farmer who provided him with an excellent education. On the death of his father in 1784, Burns tried his hand at farming, but met with little success.
Burns and Nasmyth became firm friends, sharing a love of nature as well as an interest in radical politics. On his trips to Edinburgh, Burns was a frequent visitor to Nasmyth’s studio, and they often walked together in the surrounding countryside. In 1828, many years after Burns’s early death, Nasmyth made another portrait of him, this time showing the poet standing against a view of the Auld Brig o’ Doon at Alloway in his native Ayrshire. This more Romantic image is also in the collection of the Portrait Gallery.
Next is the Painting, “Minister on the Loch” by Henry Raeburn (1756-1823)
The Skater is thought to be the Reverend Robert Walker, minister of the Canongate Kirk and a member of the Edinburgh Skating Society, skating on Duddingston Loch on the outskirts of Edinburgh 1795. The painting is in the National Gallery of Scotland, well worth a visit.
We learn that there is a Scottish Country Dance called ‘Minister on the Loch’ a Strathspey (3 x 32) for three couples, i.e., 32 bar strathspey danced three times through. Composed by Roy Goldring, this is an extremely popular dance and appears on dance programmes regularly. A demonstration of the dance can be viewed on U-Tube.
Last but not least is the annual celebration of the Scottish Poet Robert Burns, born 25th January 1759 and died 21st July 1796. Burns Night suppers are held in many parts of the world on the 25th of January. The menu consists of Cock-a-leekie soup, Haggis,neeps and tatties, Cranachan or Scottish triffle. The Supper begins with the Selkirk Grace and ‘attreebute tae Robert Burns’: Some hae meat and canna eat, and some wad eat that want it, But we hae meat and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit. The Haggis is paraded in behind a Piper and the Address to a Haggis follows. The first verse: Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great Chieftain o’ the puddin’-race! Aboon them a’ ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace As lang’s my arm.
Burns also composed love poems which were set to music, such as Ae Fond Kiss and My Luve is like a Red, Red Rose. The song that is sung, most often after Ceilidhs, dances, parties, and Hogmanay is, of course, Auld Lang Syne
And the triple link between The Minister on the Loch dance, Scottish dancing in general and Burns is this: In his 17th year, Robert Burns attended a Scottish dance school. The teacher was William Gregg, who was born in 1766 in Ayr. William would have accompanied the lessons on his fiddle and that same fiddle is to this day on display at the Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway. (SS) Duke of Wellington statue, Glasgow.
When you think of Glasgow’s rich cultural heritage you think of many things: The School of Art building; the Mackintosh tearoom; the Burrell Collection in Pollock Park; the Gallery of Modern Art; the Kelvingrove Art Gallery. But it is perhaps what is outside the Gallery of Modern Art which should attract your attention. For here, on his plinth, is a statue of the Duke of Wellington on his horse. And it is this statue which, according to Wikipedia, is “one of Glasgow’s most iconic landmarks” and which Culture Trip says is “testament to the priceless Glaswegian and Scottish sense of humour”.
Designed by the Italian sculptor Carlo Marochetti and erected in 1844, for his first 140 years the Duke attracted no particular attention. Then one night in the 1980s the Duke acquired a hat – or to be more precise, a traffic cone. It is thought, though there are many theories, that it might have been a student – rather fou after a night on the bevvy – who put it there. The authorities removed the cone, it appeared again. The authorities removed it, it reappeared. This went on, at an alleged cost of £10,000 per year to remove the cones, until the City Council decided to put a stop to it by doubling the height of the plinth. A petition was raised to save the statue as it was, and this acquired 10,000 signatures in 24 hours. The Council backed down.
It was perhaps inevitable that, when Glasgow hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2014, the statue with cone should make an appearance at the opening ceremony. And, when the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society held its annual Spring Fling for younger dancers in Glasgow in 2018, what else could possibly be the logo for that?
So when you next head to Glasgow, do take in all the wonderful cultural heritage – but also, do walk to the Gallery of Modern Art on Royal Exchange Square, just south of Queen Street Station, and say “hello” to the Duke. Ye cannae miss him – he’s the wan with the cone on his heid!! (DS)
Our concluding contribution is a bit on Joan Eardley (1921 – 1963). We understand from Becky Manson, Curator: The last century had seen some artists in Scotland exploring the theme of identity and one artist was Joan Eardley. Eardley painted both portraits of children in deprived suburban Glasgow and depictions of dramatic landscapes which chart the changes of season celebrate two distinct aspects of Scottish identity: the urban and the rural. Despite her untimely death at the age of 42, Eardley remains one of Scotland’s best loved artists.
Eardley was born in Sussex in 1921 but moved to Scotland with her family in 1939 – taking up residence in Bearsden, a suburb to the northwest of Glasgow. Eardley enrolled at Glasgow School of Art in 1940, graduating in 1943 with a diploma in Drawing and Painting. In the early 1950s, the artist rented a studio in the Townhead area of Glasgow. It was here that Eardley’s interest in documenting the children who played in the back streets of the city began.
In the early 1960s Eardley said: ‘some [children] interest me much more as characters… these ones I encourage – they do not need much encouragement – they do not pose – they come up and say, “will you paint me?” There are always knocks at the door… I try to get them to stand still – it is not possible to get a child to stay still… I watch them moving about and do the best I can’.
Alongside the children of Glasgow, Eardley’s other major inspiration was arguably a small village in Aberdeenshire. She seems to have had a special relationship with Catterline – a coastal village on the North Sea, that the artist first visited in 1951. During a period of illness, Eardley discovered Catterline on a drive with her friend, Anette Soper. That same year, Soper bought a small building on a cliff top, from which she and Eardley could paint. In 1955 Eardley purchased her own cottage there – travelling back and forth between the village and her home in Glasgow until her death in 1963. It is suggested that the seascapes she created during this time are some of the artist’s most personal images, with Eardley herself stating that the more she got to know a particular place, the more she found to paint there. Though Eardley’s final works focused again on urban Glasgow’s children, the artist’s affinity with the rural village’s stormy seas are evident. Following her death, Eardley’s ashes were scattered on the beach at Catterline.