We are all waiting for the wintry weather of storms with high winds, snow, rain and dark skies briefly punctured with sunshine to finally blow away and allow the arrival of spring.
Earlier this week when it looked like the blue sky might last longer than 15 minutes I nipped down to the Town Centre to do some chores. It’s only a 12 minute walk from where I live and by the time I was heading back home it still didn’t look like rain and I decided to walk back through Christchurch Park.
The Wolsey Garden is a small semi-formal space within the larger parkland. It has neatly clipped box and yew which gives structure that sustains interest in the space even in very early spring, or is that late winter, before the first flowers bloom.
It is these fine evergreens that also punctuate the full garden of early autumn giving a dark background for the wispy sprays of seedheads and colourful dots of the seasonal flowers.
Spring is most definitely on the horizon when you find yourself tidying up and decluttering in an attempt to let the increasing daylight hours suffuse your home with hope-laden brightness. One task on my decluttering list is to seriously, and I mean seriously, start deleting some of the 17,000 plus photographs clogging up my hard drive.
The process is time-consuming and mostly boring, but every now and then I discover a forgotten encounter. And, one such occasion was a presentation given by Bob Entwistle, Conservator at Christchurch Mansion, about this beautiful and intriguing black and gold japanned cabinet.
The talk was on a Saturday morning in March 2020 just as the world was learning about a formidable, novel virus and a global pandemic heading our way. At the time we weren’t required to wear masks, but we were given latex gloves to handle precious objects and we joked gently as someone stepped back turning away to cough. Whoa – how little we knew then and, strangely, how long ago it all feels now.
Anyway, I digress, back to this magnificent object. Overall, it is about 1.4 metres tall and 45 cm in width. The main cabinet was made in China sometime in the late-seventeenth century or perhaps in the early part of the eighteenth century and is decorated with gold flowers and birds on a black lacquer background. It has European additions possibly from the nineteenth century which I think you can tell from the photographs. The legs of the cabinet have a curved European style. These cabriole legs are also decorated with Western floral motifs.
There are a number of drawers which make up the main body of the piece. This main drawer arrangement can be extracted as a whole section from the carcass and put aside.
Then another ten ‘secret’ drawers can be accessed in the walls of the carcass. During a restoration that was undertaken in 2005 tiny seeds were found hidden in one of these draws.
The cabinet is now on display in the Green Room of Christchurch Mansion and it is a splendid example of chinoiserie that could have been collected by the Fonnereau family living in the mansion during the eighteenth century, but that is not the case. Following the donation in 1894 of an empty Christchurch Mansion by a property syndicate to Ipswich Borough Council the process of buying back furniture and art as well as buying similar pieces to decorate the mansion began. And the lot, ‘Queen Anne lacquer cabinet with black and gold decoration fitted with cabriole legs’, was listed in the country house sale of over 1,500 lots of the furniture and effects of the Brooke family of Ufford Place near Woodbridge, Suffolk. The cabinet was purchased for the Mansion from that 1930 sale for £110 and five shillings. That is about £8,300 in today’s money, but when I looked at recent values for similar antique chinoiserie cabinets they have sold from between £15,000 to £38,000. A good investment for Ipswich not that the Museum Service is going to be putting it up for sale anytime soon.
Interestingly, back in 2015 the cabinet returned to China for six months to be part of the display for an exhibition ‘Georgian Life’ taking place at Nanjing Museum, Nanjing, Jiangsu province, China. Bob Entwistle accompanied the shipment of the museum pieces on loan from Suffolk to Nanjing.
When the cabinet was unpacked at the museum Bob showed his hosts the Chinese classical script found on the woodwork at the back of one of the drawers and he was finally able to learn its meaning. Apparently, somewhat disappointingly, it translates as left and right simply providing functional information for the correct fitting of the drawer into its slot.
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.
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.
Earlier this month I was in Felixstowe and took a few minutes to walk down to the beach and brave the howling, bitterly cold wind to take one or two photos of the seaside in winter.
Not surprisingly, the colourful beach huts were securely locked up for the season. Although, whilst I was taking pictures at least three people together with their pooches battled past. Hardy folk indeed, but I guess dogs need their walks come rain or shine, or winter gales.
Once I’d watched the container ship disappear out of sight into the Orwell Estuary on its way to the Felixstowe docks, I turned about to see, amazingly, a small, beach hut café was open.
However, the view I came to see was not the café, but the bar, the long, ever-shifting shingle bar forming and re-forming as the River Deben meets the North Sea. There’s a short aerial video filmed by John Ranson showing the extent of the bar here.
Now, obviously this stretch of coastline is in flux, but how incredible it must have been for the Anglo-Saxon longboats, around 625 AD, to make their way across the bar and head up the river to Woodbridge. And, we know they did this because they buried their king in his longboat with his treasure to rest for eternity at Sutton Hoo. Rather puts moaning about the current cold snap in perspective.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
It’s late August and across the local park it is looking more like late September. This situation is all down to the drought of course. The grass can be dried to a crispy brown and it will still regrow with the first serious rainfall, however not so for the trees. Some of the big ol’ mature trees in Christchurch Park have decided to cut their losses for this year and drop their leaves early.
I think you can see from the photographs that some varieties are coping better than others. It is mostly the horse chestnuts, possibly weakened by disease, that are taking the biggest hit and are already standing amongst a carpet of dead leaves. I hope they are strong enough to make a full return next year.
Somethings that won’t be in the park next year are the decorated model owls of Ipswich’s art trail for summer 2022, ‘The Big Hoot‘. This owl might have been named ‘Skool’s Owt’, but with its questioning expression and smart uniform it now stands before an empty playground littered with fallen leaves, and instead appears to be heralding the arrival of autumn and the return to school.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last month I went to an organ and voice recital at St Bartholomew’s Church, Orford, on the Suffolk Coast. It was part of the 2022 Aldeburgh Festival and the recital was a sellout for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the youthful, passionate and exceedingly energetic organist, Anna Lapwood, was performing and, secondly, she was demonstrating her prodigious talent playing the Peter Collins organ newly installed in the church.
Strictly speaking the organ is not a new organ, but new to this church. It was a gift from the University of Southampton. The organ was originally built in 1977 by Peter Collins for the Turner Sims Concert Hall in Southampton.
An organ such as this to be built from new for St Bartholomew’s would have cost £600,000. However, as a gift from the university together with some successful fundraising to acquire the £120,000 needed for the renovation and installation, St Bartholomew’s gained a magnificent instrument.
Perhaps, you are wondering why a medieval church in a small, picturesque Suffolk village, essentially on the road to nowhere, at the edge of a county, on the North Sea coast, would warrant such a special organ. Well, the answer is Benjamin Britten. He lived for much of his life in Aldeburgh and Aldeburgh is only 11 miles along the Suffolk country lanes to Orford. Also, this Suffolk church has fine acoustics for recording and was chosen by Britten for the world premieres of his works the ‘Three Church Parables’ and ‘Noyes Fludde’.
It is a remarkable place for a concert or recital being both small enough for a sense of intimacy and yet large enough for the sound to fill the space in such a manner as to engulf the listener.
And, what of the recital? It was glorious. The programme devised by Anna Lapwood (by the way, the first woman in Oxford’s Magdalen College’s, 560-year history to be awarded an organ scholarship) was a series of plainchant pieces followed by an organ work inspired by or linked to the preceding chant.
The concert began with a beautiful solo voice (a Pembroke College, Cambridge, choir member) singing the plainchant ‘Magnificat Primi Toni’ followed by Bach’s ‘Fuga Sopra il Magnificat’ (BWV 733).
Of course, the programme wouldn’t have been complete without a piece or two by Britten. Anna Lapwood played Britten’s ‘Voluntary on Tallis’ Lamentation’ following the plainchant ‘Lamentation’ by Thomas Tallis. And, towards the end of the programme she played Britten’s ‘Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Vittoria’ following the singing of ‘Ecce Sacerdos Magnus’ by Vittoria.
Finally, and interestingly it turns out that Anna Lapwood has a personal connection through her father to both Benjamin Britten and St Bartholomew’s.
“As a child I spent many holidays walking through the wind and rain on Aldeburgh beach. My dad grew up in Suffolk and actually played the violin for Britten in Orford Parish Church as a child.”
Well, the British are known for their conversations about the weather so naturally this past week of record-breaking temperatures requires a comment – it was hot.
Not pleasantly, summer hols hot, but horrible hot. Here in Suffolk there was even a wildfire as grassland together with a field of wheat went up in flames not two miles from where I used to live in Tunstall.
According to the Fire & Rescue Service a wildfire is “Any uncontrolled vegetation fire which requires a decision, or action, regarding suppression” and this particular Suffolk wildfire required active suppression. The fire-fighting was captured for the East Anglian Daily Times by my next-door neighbour. She is a staff photographer on the local newspaper and just happened to be driving along the A12 (the main road up the eastern side of the county) when she spotted dark smoke filling the skyline. Diverting across country to Campsea Ashe she arrived at the scene as the first fire crew began tackling the blaze. You can see her amazing and frightening photographs here.
With 40 degrees Celsius being recorded for the first time in the UK more and more people are finally realising what we are facing with the Climate Crisis. If nothing else, this week’s heatwave has shown the UK’s housing stock to be poorly insulated. Good insulation not only means keeping homes warm in the winter, but it helps to keep indoor temperatures liveable in the high heat of summer. Unlike homes in tropical or even Mediterranean countries our housing is not built with the heat in mind and a solution of widely installing air conditioning is neither affordable nor environmentally sound. It’s time for some political leadership to get a national insulation scheme up and running – whoops, I forgot, we don’t have a leader. And, with the tragedy of short-termism in our political system, I can’t see either of the current candidates for Prime Minister making housing insulation a priority. In fact, despairingly, I can’t see either of them moving the green agenda forwards.
But what of my ‘concrete scarred’ backyard in the heat. The summer bedding is doing okay.
Of course, with most of my plants in pots due to the concrete issue, there’s lots of regular watering to do.
However, even with watering and positioned in partial shade, some flowers have gone over very quickly so I cut them for the house.
This year is the first year that the climbing rose ‘Breath of Life’, on a south-facing fence, has flowered. However, before the blooms were scorched to crispy, dried flowers I cut them and took them indoors. I love both their scent and their colour.
Finally, there are some plants that have been lapping up the hot sun in the displays at the local park such as these tropical cannas. I have singled out a gorgeous orange canna and together with the peachy orange rose found some ‘hot’ inspiration for my work.