A Favourite Painting

This picture that hangs as part of the permanent collection of Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, is one of my favourite oil paintings. It is called ‘Interior with Mrs Charles Burnand’ and was painted by Anna Airy (1882-1964) in 1919. The photograph was taken with my phone and I think something of the soft and welcoming warmth that is so enchanting in the real-life painting is lost with the sharp automatic focussing and exposure of the phone camera.

Fortunately, I had my DSLR camera in my rucksack, but, not so fortunately, I had the single focus lens attached, the one I normally use for scarf portraits. All wasn’t lost as, although I couldn’t physically get far enough away to capture the whole painting in one shot (it’s situated in a narrowing part of the room just before a doorway), the lens easily coped with the gallery low lighting.

And, the resultant photographs are interesting as the daubs and brushwork are clearer and the mellowness of the painting is more noticeable.

Detail from ‘Interior with Mrs Charles Burnand’ by Anna Airy. Oil on canvas. 1919.

Paintings of interiors, and particularly domestic interiors, are less common than views of landscapes and portraits of people. Could it be that the themes and subjects of Art when commissioned for the private and not public sphere are often as much to do with fashion and status as with any other aspects of human societies? Landscapes of my estate/lands/view yes, portraits of me/my family/my connections yes, but interiors of my personal private space not so much. Or, could it be simply pragmatic as before the arrival of gas and then electric lighting it was difficult to paint interiors from life? Or, could it even be that the subject matter was too domestic for many male artists? This painting is an example of a woman’s visual creativity. It is interesting to consider that aside from the 18th-century Conversation pieces it isn’t until the Victorian era that painting of interiors become more popular as subject matter.

If you haven’t come across Anna Airy before here is the biographical detail provided by the curators at the gallery.

Airy was born in London in 1882. In 1899 she entered the Slade School of Art. She had a great artistic talent. During her five years at the Slade she won all the first prizes awarded, including the Slade Scholarship and the Melville Nettleship prize for three consecutive years. From 1905 she regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy. In the following years, she became a member of many important artistic groups and societies.

During the First World War she was employed as a war artist, producing some of her most outstanding work of munitions factories and women working in a gas retort house. After the war she concentrated on figure painting, landscapes, flower compositions and still life. She was a highly skilled and gifted artist who was able to work well in all mediums, including oils, watercolours, pastels, etching and crayon. Airy and her husband moved to Playford, a village five miles from Ipswich in 1933. In 1945 she was elected the President of the Ipswich Art Club, a position which she held until her death in 1964.

Early this year in August, Alison Thomas posted on ArtUK, ‘Anna Airy: a remarkable forgotten artist’, a piece which includes further details of her life and a selection of images of Airy’s wide-ranging work.

A Turner for East Anglia

In 2018, Sotheby’s in London sold the painting ‘Walton Bridges’ by J M W Turner to an overseas private buyer. According to the Arts Council, once certain cultural goods reach or exceed specific age and monetary value thresholds, the goods require an individual licence for export out of the UK.

‘Walton Bridges’ was painted by Turner in 1806 and as such is considered a significant early Turner work. It is now also worth £3.4 million thus meeting the requirements for an Export Stop, a pause in the granting of an export licence. This became the point at which the process of fundraising to save the painting for the nation began. In 2019, with considerable funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Art Fund and a private donor, the painting was purchased for the country. And, as none of the public museum collections of Essex, Suffolk or Norfolk held a Turner for public display, it was decided that ‘Walton Bridges’ would have a new home at the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. East Anglia would at last have a Turner.

‘Walton Bridges’ by J M W Turner (23 April 1775 – 19 December 1851). Oil on canvas. H 92.7 x W 123.8 cm. 1806.

As is the way these days, there are loans and sharing between museums across a region and as part of this practice ‘Walton Bridges’ has so far been shown at Colchester Castle Museum and Lynn Museum. It is currently at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, as part of the ‘Landscape Rebels’ exhibition and will eventually return to Norwich in 2023.

Close up detail showing activity on the River Thames from Turner’s ‘Walton Bridges’.

The exhibition ‘Landscape Rebels’ explores how human activity impacts landscapes and has split the exhibition into different categories of rebels. These include Nature Rebels, Art Rebels, Coastal Rebels, Global Rebels, Local Rebels and Material Rebels. Naturally, ‘Walton Bridges’ is part of the Art Rebels section as Turner’s works are known for challenging how landscapes and seascapes were traditionally depicted particularly with his painterly expression of light. His painting of this particular Thames crossing is complemented in the exhibition with a loan from the National Gallery, London, of Claude Monet’s ‘The Thames Below Westminster’, painted in 1871.

‘The Thames Below Westminster’ Claude Monet (14 November 1840- 5 December 1926). Oil on canvas. H 47 x W 73 cm. 1871

It isn’t just that both these paintings feature the River Thames, but Monet too was an artist who offered a new, different way of seeing and can also be considered an Art Rebel. I thought it was fascinating to see these two paintings side by side and up close as well. To stand before the work of two artists, a couple of generations apart, but both 31 years old at the time they painted these pictures, was fascinating. They both challenged the received conventions of their time and rebelled.

Closer photo showing the silhouetted people on the jetty stark against the soft light of the misty background.

And, finally if you were wondering about the header photo, it’s another river, not the Thames, but the River Orwell shrouded in mist. I wonder what Turner and Monet would have made of the digital revolution and today’s pictures taken on mobile phones? Detail, colour, mood all achieved instantly, momentarily assessed, perhaps saved and shared, but just as likely to be instantly deleted.

24 November – My Great-Grandfather’s Birthday

Today, 24th November, marks a couple of birthdays in our family. My great-grandfather, Harry Whatmore was born on 24 November 1879 in Limehouse, London. He was probably born in the family home, 32, West India Dock Road. According to the 1891 Census he was still living there 12 years later along with his parents, William and Ann, and his four sisters and three brothers.

Harry Whatmore 1879 – 1965

In this photograph of Harry, I gather he was over 80 years old at the time, you can see a small statue in the background on the windowsill. A strange oriental piece that shows a Chinese man growing out of a lump of knobbly wood.

The sculpture has been in our family since one of Harry’s older brothers, Bill, a seaman, brought it back from a stint in the Far East. It is carved out of a single piece of irregularly, lumpy wood. I think it might be cedar root and possibly an example of the Chinese traditional folk art of cedar-root carving.

The uncarved reverse of the Oriental Man.

As I look at the old family photo, below, I wonder what happened to the sisters and the other brothers of Harry and Bill. I don’t remember my grandmother every talking about them although she did once mention the Limehouse Whatmores had been involved with running some kind of Christian Seamen’s Mission on the West India Dock Road.

From the left, my father in the pushchair, my grandmother, my grandfather, great-great uncle Bill and finally, my great grandfather Harry Whatmore. Circa 1935.

I expect Bill brought other gifts back from overseas, but my grandmother was a great one for selling off stuff as and when required. She was certainly not sentimental by nature. This is the only known ‘art’ survivor from her family and it was not appreciated by my mother at all (she thought it rather creepy), but it was a favourite with my father.

Making Space Memorable

The exhibition ‘Soheila Sokhanvari: Rebel Rebel’ at the Barbican opened on 7th October 2022 and runs through to 26th February 2023. I thought it brilliant and extremely memorable, and, the ‘space’ has everything do with the shows impact. Sokhanvari has created an environment that envelops, almost strangely cosseting the visitor, and hung within this world of engulfing geometric pattern, are miniature portraits of 28 Iranian women from pre-Revolutionary Iran.

The Curve transformed by Sokhanvari. Hand painted, geometric design applied to wall and floor. Red structure shows hologram ‘Cosmic Dance I’.

Last month, it felt timely to visit ‘Rebel, Rebel’, as this exhibition shows portraits of Iranian women who were working in the creative arts before the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

LEFT. ‘Bang’ – portrait of Faranak Mirghahari (actor) 2019, egg tempera on calf vellum, collection of Elizabeth and Jeff Louis. RIGHT. ‘She Walks in Beauty’ – portrait of Shohreh Aghdashloo (actor) 2022, egg tempera on calf vellum, collection of Aarti Lohi.

As we have recently seen on the news there are ongoing protests in Iran challenging some of the laws of the clerical regime. This period of protest began following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who apparently did not have her head appropriately covered. She was arrested by the morality police in Tehran on 13 September for apparently violating Iran’s strict rules requiring women to cover their hair with a hijab or headscarf. These laws are part of the theocratic society of Iran that came into existence in 1979.

Within the hand-painted geometric wall decoration hang the 28 portrait paintings.

The women featured in this exhibition were active in Iran before its Islamic Revolution during the Pahlavi era between 1925 and 1979. Their stories from this time have rarely been told.

‘The Woman in the Mirror’, – portrait of Fereshteh Jenabi (actor), 2021, egg tempera on calf vellum, collection of the Hundle family.

Nowadays we might call these women feminist icons of the period. Despite the conservative, male-dominated society of their times they successfully worked in the realms of literature, theatre, film and music.

LEFT. ‘The Love Addict’ – portraits of Faegheh Atashin known professionally as Googoosh (singer), 2019, egg tempera on calf vellum, private collection. RIGHT. ‘Wild at Heart’ – portrait of Pouran Shapoori (singer), 2019, egg tempera on calf vellum, collection of Maria R. Al Khalifa.

Soheila Sokhanvari has painted a series of portraits using egg tempera painted on calf vellum. The finished paintings have a soft lustre and are bright with colour bringing a vivacious quality to her subjects. Short biographies of all 28 creative women can be read here.

‘A Persian Requiem’ – portrait of Simin Daneshvar (writer), 2020, egg tempera on calf vellum.

Also as part of the exhibition, there are a couple of hologram installations showing ‘Cosmic Dance I’ and ‘Cosmic Dance II’. And, at the very end of the gallery space there is a suspended star, made of two-way mirrors and perspex.

A large star suspended at the end of The Curve.

Once settled on a large comfy cushion you can watch clips of Iranian films shining out from the centre of the star showing some of the women whose portraits hang in the exhibition.

A Couple of Extras for ‘The Shining’?

Sometimes I see an old painting and immediately it strikes me that something about it is not of its time and has instead a familiar, more contemporary quality. And this was precisely the case when I looked at the painting of the Gosnall twins, Master Thomas and Master John, painted in around 1749 by Francis Cufaude (c.1700-c.1750).

‘Master Thomas and Master John Gosnall of Bentley’ by Francis Cufaude. Oil on canvas. 1749

The twins were born on 8th August 1745. and their family, the Gosnolds/Gosnalls, claimed descent from Edward III through their great-great-grandmother, Winifred Pole. This painting is currently hanging in the Rococo Drawing Room of Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich.

Obviously, this representation shows the twins in the appropriate dress for their age and class during the eighteenth century. However their staring, blank expression with a hint of smugness, looks modern to me. They could just as easily have turned up with the twin girls in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’. I think it’s the foreheads?

The Gosnall Twins hanging in the Rococo Drawing Room of Christchurch Mansion.

The Wolsey Garden in Autumn

Tucked behind the main buildings of Christchurch Mansion there is a small tranquil garden, the Wolsey Garden, and despite its formal structure it has beds planted in a loose, informal style. The main walkway is bordered with a hedge of clipped yew whilst the smaller beds of the garden are edged with lavender that spills over the paths softening the hard edges.

Entrance to The Wolsey Garden restored in 2006 by The Friends of Christchurch Park.

The garden is planted with a mixture of herbaceous perennials with evergreen domes of yew in the middle of the beds to provide yearlong interest and structure.

Soft, silvery planting.

At this time of the year it is the floriferous lilac asters that bring colour to the design and complement a delicate silvery sculpture that makes an elegant focal point for this small space.

Lilac asters with ‘Triple Mycomorph’ in the background. The sculpture was commissioned and donated by Tom Gondris in memory of his parents.

The sculpture, ‘Triple Mycomorph’ by Bernard Reynolds, was donated to the garden by local businessman and prominent member of The Ipswich Society, Tom Gondris, in memory of his parents Eugen and Else. Tom’s family were a Czechoslovakian Jewish family living in Sudetenland in 1938. When his parents recognised the imminent threat from Hitler they were able to arrange for their only child, Tom, to board the last Kindertransport to leave Czechoslovakia. Nine year old Tom left his home and, sadly never saw his parents again. More about his fascinating life story can be read here.

‘Triple Mycomorph’ by Bernard Reynolds (1915–1997). Aluminium alloy. 1992

When I visited the garden earlier this week it wasn’t only the asters still in flower, but a few semi-double white roses added both colour and a light scent to this quiet and peaceful space.

Before I wrap up this post I must draw your attention to the magnificent, mature cedar that stands on the western boundary of the Wolsey Garden.

Its striking evergreen form will become more and more prominent when its deciduous neighbours drop their leaves as the autumnal changes gather pace.

The delicately refined and the brutally honest

Sometimes a national event becomes a moment to note that nothing is fixed forever. The recent ten days of state mourning and a state funeral is one such example.

Visit any local parish church and you can see how the great and the good have been memorialised in stone or glass to be remembered to the end of time! Naturally, as with most aspects of human society the expression of commemoration is subject to the form of the times and the ability to pay for the memorial. The fine and elaborate tomb of Sir Robert Drury and his wife, Lady Anne, reflects the status they enjoyed whilst alive and the elite memorial fashion of the early sixteenth century.

The tomb of Sir Robert Drury (1456-1536) and his first wife, Lady Anne. Sir Robert was a Knight of the Body to Kings Henry VII and Henry VIII. St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

By the time of the eighteenth century more and more middle class professionals and their families were worthy enough and had means enough to be publicly remembered and were able to afford wall monuments.

18th century wall monuments for the great and the good of the locality. St Mary’s, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

But if we revisit the medieval period we find memorials which are less a decorous celebration of a life, but more a prompt to the onlooker to consider their own mortality. One expression of this sentiment is the Transi or Cadaver Tomb. There are over 40 medieval cadaver tombs extant in England and Wales and one of these is for John Baret (d.1467) and it can be found in St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds. Baret was a wealthy cloth merchant and a gentleman of the household of the Abbot of Bury St Edmunds who had his memorial constructed in 1463, four years before his death.

The Cadaver Tomb of John Baret. Limestone. 1463

This particular cadaver tomb is unusual as traditionally the tomb had a clothed human effigy on the top of the tomb, and the naked emaciated corpse below. Baret reversed the convention and had his single-carved, three-quarter sized, naked corpse on the top with his miniature, clothed version below on one side of the tomb in bas-relief.

The miniature, clothed Baret in bas-relief.

Baret also had these words carved near his effigy’s head, “He that wil sadly beholde one with his ie, May se hys owyn merowr and lerne for to die“. (‘He that will sadly behold me with his eye, may see his own morrow and learn for to die’.)

These days it appears we have travelled a long way from the clear-eyed almost brutal memorials of the medieval dead to a time where youth is lauded to such an extent there is almost a denial that death exists at all. If there’s one positive to be taken from the ten days of national mourning, it is that it provided an opportunity for ordinary people to discuss their own experiences of loss and bereavement more openly.

The Doll’s Toy Bazaar

Last week I had to ring an information telephone number and when my call was connected I was informed the current waiting time was 60 minutes. Interestingly the voice didn’t say one hour, but 60 minutes. Maybe, they think you’ll mishear and be hoping it was only going to be a 16 minute wait. Eventually after 57 minutes of holding on, I spoke to a human who endeavoured to help, but when they attempted to put me through to another department the advisor inadvertently cut me off.

Momentarily I was stunned. Disbelief was rapidly followed by R A G E. My blood pressure must have rocketed into the stratosphere. I felt I needed to get out of the house as quickly as possible. Breathe some fresh air. Go for a walk. Visit somewhere soothing and peaceful.

I strolled over to Christchurch Mansion which is near to where I live and at 10.15 on an August weekday morning it was open and thankfully still quiet. Of course, I have visited the Mansion on a number of occasions since I moved to Ipswich, but as yet had never investigated the Toy Room. To my surprise, along with the usual faded dolls and well-cuddled teddy bears, there was this fascinating gem. It is a Victorian Glass Dome display called the Doll’s Toy Bazaar.

The Doll’s Toy Bazaar is roughly 22 inches tall by 18 inches wide by 12 inches deep.

It’s difficult to understand the scale of this piece from photographs even when estimated measurements are given so I thought I’d include a sequence of photographs with ‘normal sized’ reference points.

Left, dome on the middle shelf of the case next to a doorway. Centre, dome above the antique dolls. Right – a little hard to see, but me with my phone in the toy mirror.
An aerial view of the Doll’s Toy Bazaar show it’s not as cluttered as it first appears.

The Doll’s Toy Bazaar is packed with miniature versions of familiar homeware. It’s relatively easy to spot candlesticks, glasses, porcelain ornaments and a few crocheted doilies.

Candlesticks, bottles, ornaments and a couple of white egg cups.

But something I didn’t notice until I looked at my photographs was this grouping of three very tiny houses. I think you can tell how small they are by the brush behind which has a head of bristles the size of a modern toothbrush head.

A model of three tiny houses – a toy for a Doll’s house nursery perhaps?

Looking at the entirety of the Doll’s Toy Bazaar made me consider the nature of the person who had collected and selected and arranged this display. Her name was Henrietta Clarke and she died in 1869. I’ve not been able to find out anything else about this Victorian woman at all. There’s no indication of her marital status or age at the time of making the display nor even if she grew to adulthood.

Mind you examining her creation we might presume that she had had steady hands and a patient temperament although lurking beneath the Victorian etiquette of feminine passivity there might have been an inner core of turmoil and vexation.

Doll’s house drinking glasses. Each glass is the size of your little finger’s finger nail.

Tribe at the Festival (not Glastonbury)

There are festivals and festivals. The Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts has been going since 1948 and is a music festival, but one without camping. It was founded in 1948 by Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and the writer and producer Eric Crozier.

Before the evening concert at Snape Maltings from across the River Alde.

The first festival was held from 5th to 13th June 1948 with a varied programme of choral, orchestral and chamber concerts, recitals, exhibitions and lectures and three performances of Britten’s opera Albert Herring.

The Maltings through the grasses and reeds, 21 June 2022.

Over the following 20 years the festival’s increasing international reputation for excellence and its subsequent expanding audiences led to Britten and Pears realising the need for a dedicated festival concert hall. The disused maltings at Snape were selected for redevelopment. According to Kenneth Powell of the ’20th Century Society, “Britten was a demanding client: he wanted a 1000 seat hall, costing no more than £50,000, and completed in time for the 1966 Festival. The concert hall eventually cost £127,000 and seated 830”. It was opened by the Queen on 2 June 1967, the first day of the 20th Aldeburgh Festival.  

However, just two years later on 7th June 1969 the concert hall was destroyed by fire. The hall we see today is the replica rebuilt, as requested by Britten, to be “just as it was”. The Queen came again in 1970 to open the hall, as she had done in 1967, and is reported as saying that she hoped not to be asked to come back a third time. The Queen may not have been back to the Maltings, but with the exception of the two years for Covid cancellations, the Aldeburgh Festival has returned every year since.

So what of the ‘tribe‘ at the festival? It is an artwork. It is these fine bronze men striding out towards the reeds. ‘Tribe’ by Laurence Edwards is part of a a three-year creative collaboration between Britten Pears Arts and Messums Wiltshire for 2022, 2024 and 2025.

‘Tribe’, Laurence Edwards, 2019-21. Bronze. Walking Figure 1, 238.8 x 134.6 x 83.8 cm, Walking Figure 2, 240 x 142.2 x 81.3 cm, Walking Figure 3, 238.8 x 124.5 x 88.9 cm.

The bronzes are currently on display as part of the Aldeburgh Festival at the Maltings site. They will then feature as part of Laurence Edwards’ solo exhibition ‘Tribes and Thresholds’ at Messums Wiltshire from 6 August – 16 October 2022. And, then next year they will travel to the other side of the world to Australia to be installed at the Orange Regional Museum in New South Wales.

It is difficult to appreciate from a photograph the compelling presence of these bronze men not least their imposing size.

Five men.

As a group of three there is an intensity and solid quality to the ‘Walking Men’, but also, for a static sculpture, a strong sense of movement. And, then, when you look up and into their faces expecting purpose and resolve instead there is a questioning hesitancy coupled with a hint of resignation or perhaps even loss. Altogether a captivating work.

St Margaret’s Church, Ipswich

Ipswich has twelve medieval churches and St Margaret’s is a glorious, though slightly unusual, example of one of these fine, historical buildings. From the outside it appears like many medieval parish churches you find in an English town or village, but inside it has a superbly carved, fifteenth-century double-hammer beam roof embellished with, and this is the surprise, a programme of late seventeenth-century paintings.

St Margaret’s Church, Ipswich – a Grade I listed, mediaeval beauty.

Originally part of the Holy Trinity priory, St Margaret’s was built during the course of the fourteenth century for the growing lay community that flourished around the Augustinian priory.

St Margaret’s in the bright sunlight of early spring and the soft hues of a winter sunset.

Ipswich during the medieval period was a successful, wealthy town with the East Anglian wool traders exporting to the Continent from the Port of Ipswich. Successful merchants and townsfolk, like any good Christians of the time, provided funds for the church and towards the end of the fifteenth century a double hammerbeam roof was added to the building in order to raise the roof and add a clerestory.

The fifteenth-century clerestory and double hammerbeam roof.

Several merchant families are recorded as major benefactors of the church who provided the funds for raising the roof. John (died 1503) and Katherine Hall (died 1506) and their son, William, were woad dyers and woad merchants, and their initials and merchant marks have been noted carved in the timbers of the roof. Other initials and marks belonging to the brickmakers, Henry and Isabel Tylmaker who left legacies in their wills of 1445 and 1460, can be seen together with the mark for a thatcher, John Byrd the Elder.

Left photo, the nave looking to the east, middle photo, looking to the west and finally the righthand photo shows the large, useful mirror to aid viewing the ceiling.

Looking up at the roof you can see amongst the ornate, decorative embellishments, carved saints, both male and female, unfortunately most are difficult to make out and even harder to identify in the gloom (binoculars and a very sunny day are needed).

Ornate fifteenth-century carving.

Altogether there are over 120 carvings embellishing the roof structure including on the south side symbols of the Passion. The ladder, spear, nails, crown of thorns and scourging pillar have been recorded, but without binoculars I couldn’t see them let alone manage to photograph them in the ambient light despite it being a very sunny day. A camera with more oomph than mine was needed.

Detail of the fine carvings.

Since 1700 there has been a decorative scheme of shields used to hide the damage caused by William Dowsing and his iconoclasts who visited during 1644.

Margarett’s, Jan. 30. There was 12 Apostles in stone taken down; and between 20 and 30 superstitious pictures to be taken down, which a godly man, a churchwarden promised to do.

‘The journal of William Dowsing of Stratford, parliamentary visitor, appointed under a warrant from the Earl of Manchester, for demolishing the superstitious pictures and ornaments of churches.’ Journal commenced 1643, Sudbury, Suffolk.
Decorative shield pierced by metal tie-rod. The ties were installed to stabilise the nave walls/roof in the early nineteenth century.

This particular display of heraldry is explained in depth here if you’re interested. It reminded me of how far most of us have come from some of the pedantic and somewhat trivial aspects of the British class system.

Moving on from that aside, and returning to the roof and its programme of late seventeenth-century paintings, we see an elaborate tribute to William and Mary. There are 50 panels that were painted and installed in late 1694 and early 1695. Along the centre at the highest point of the ceiling run a series of ten sky panels with clouds and gilt stars. Then to either side of those run panels of heraldic arms. In this sequence above the north aisle two panels show the arms of England and Scotland and on the other side above the south aisle of France and Ireland.

The third series of panels (those immediately above the clerestory) feature texts such as ‘Feare God’ and ‘Honour the king’. Not all the panels contain words, many simply show trompe l’oeil cartouche imagery popular in the Baroque period. The painting is thought to be by local artists, with perhaps the more accomplished depictions by either William Carpenter alias Cheeseman (a painter and glazier) or Thomas Steward (a painter and engraver). Both men are in the local record as having being paid for creative work during the 1690s in the Ipswich area.

Left- cloud panels seen along centre of the roof. Right – panel trompe l’oeil cartouche with text.

St Margaret’s painted ceiling is unusual and part of Ipswich’s history, but it is still heavy-looking, dark and gloomy despite undergoing a programme of conservation and cleaning in 1994/5. Perhaps regional tastes at the time of William and Mary were for dark and heavy and not elegant interiors, but somehow I think that this was the best that could be afforded. Ipswich, at the end of the seventeenth century was no longer a wealthy town exporting wool to Europe.

Gorgeously Grotesque Ceramics

Every now and then we have a pleasant surprise when we discover something new. When you’re way past your half century novelty and surprises become less frequent, but they can still pop up and make you smile.

And, this was precisely my response on my most recent visit to Christchurch Mansion when I took the time to scrutinise a few ceramics that I must have hurried past at least ten times before.

These fabulous monsters and goblins are examples of the intriguing and imaginative work of Blanche Georgiana Vulliamy. Startlingly grotesque and so brilliantly coloured I can’t believe I had not noticed them before.

Blanche, one of thirteen children, was born at the family home, Oakstead, on Spring Road, Ipswich, in 1869. In 1890, after finishing her studies at the Ipswich School of Science and Art, she moved to London where she trained as a portrait artist. At some later point in the 1890s she moved down to Devon to live with her grandparents in Torquay. During this time she began working with Royal Aller Vale pottery in Barnstaple.

In her work as a ceramic production designer she created pieces that have the feel of medieval gargoyles. Her work was widely popular and she designed ranges for various manufacturers to produce under their own names. Baron, Wardle, Wileman, Brannam, Watcome as well as Royal Aller Vale all made ranges from her designs.

Naturally, she also sold original pieces from her studio and both Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra (then Princess of Wales) bought examples of her work.

Blanche at work..

Blanche was not only a ceramicist, she exhibited paintings at the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours and, whilst living in London, she wrote the play ‘Give Heed’ which was produced by Miss Kate Rorke at the Court Theatre in 1909. The play was also published as a book by Constable & Co. And, then during the course of World War One, Blanche sketched a series of pastels featuring searchlights in the night sky. A collection now held at Christchurch Mansion.

WW One Searchlights. Blanche Georgiana Vulliamy. 1914-18. Pastels on paper.

Blanche was active from the end of the 19th century until her death in August, 1923. She bequeathed examples of her work to Ipswich Museum. I have read from old newspapers that Christchurch Mansion held an exhibition of her work in 2001. Perhaps next year, 2023, they might hold another to mark the centenary of her death.