Friday, April 28, 2023

Sussex Waters

I had been looking forward to 'Sussex Landscape: Chalk, Wood and Water' at Pallant House but was sadly too ill to go down and see it. The catalogue is interesting though, with an overview of the exhibition and essays on photography, engraving, chalk and flint. Some of the artists I discuss in Frozen Air were included - Frank Newbould, Eric Ravilious, John Piper, Bill Brandt and Jem Southem. Other famous artists associated with places in Sussex featured - William Blake (Felpham), John Constable (Brighton), Vanessa Bell (Charleston), Lee Miller (Farleys) - along with art by people I have discussed on this blog before - Roger Fenton, Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland, Andy Goldsworthy. I imagine the exhibition's centrepiece would have been Turner's stunning Chichester Canal (c. 1828) which includes the hazy silhouette of the cathedral, located just a street away from Pallant House.  

I'll mention here a few less well known works from the catalogue:    

  1. A View of East Dean and Mr. Dipperay's House from the Hills on the East Side of the Village, 1785 by Samuel Hieronymous Grimm. One of the views commissioned for a planned history of Sussex, this is closer to documentation than art but is fascinating now as a record of what could be seen from a specific spot at the end of the eighteenth century. The British Library has 866 of these topographical watercolours.
  2. View of the Sussex Weald. c. 1927 by C.R.W. Nevinson. If I'm ever in Reading I'll have to visit their museum to see this delightful view through a window, strikingly different to the 'angular views of the war-scarred Western Front' we associate with Nevinson. 'A flourishing genre of images of the Sussex landscape framed by the domestic window is testament to the many artists who made the area their home for short or long periods during the inter-war years.'
  3. The Wave, 1966 by Gluck. This one is in a private collection and the catalogue's reproduction is a bit small and dark so it's hard to tell what it is really like. A small cropped view in an unusual frame: the whitewater and face of a breaker emerging from a turquoise-grey sea. It was painted when Gluck was living at Chantry House in Steyning with Edith Shackleton Heald.   
  4. Track with Sheep (Near Lewes) c. 1983-87 by John Holloway. 'Holloway began photographing the landscape in 1978, and over the next twenty-five years would provide a unique view of the land by taking photographs at a height of 1,500 feet from a small aeroplane. He would work at two specific times of the year - either side of the spring and autumn equinox - when the angle of the sun reveals the textures of the Downs.' You can see examples of his work in The Guardian's obituary.
  5. Solar, Seven Sisters, 2019 by Jeremy Gardiner. This combines a familiar (to me) view of the cliffs and buildings at Cuckmere Haven with abstract planes reminiscent of St Ives painters or Richard Diebenkorn. The relief surfaces 'represent both pictorially and conceptually the geological strata of the coastline.'

Before concluding I will just mention one of the book's essays as it's by an artist I'm surprised I haven't mentioned here before, Tania Kovats. I remember going to see her Darwin-inspired artwork TREE at the Natural History Museum back in 2011 (see photo below!) For Sussex Waters in this exhibition she installed bottles of water taken from the county's rivers. The idea of collecting and exhibiting water samples isn't new - Roni Horn's Library of Water in Iceland is more dramatic and directly addresses climate change in preserving glacial meltwater. But if you come from Sussex, the list of rivers Kovats visited is evocative in itself. They have some beautiful, resonant names - Cuckmere of course, and Cowfold, Woodsmill, Adur, Arun, Rother, Uck, Ouse. Glynde evokes an image of well-healed highbrow culture, Gatwick Stream a remnant of a landscape built over for a 'London' airport. There are quite a few I've never heard of but would like to visit. As she says, 'even naming rivers opens us up to connection.'

Sunday, April 16, 2023

A landscape submerged

The St. Elizabeth's Day Flood, c. 1490-95


During the night of 19 November 1421 a heavy storm caused rivers to surge, dikes to overflow and large areas of polder land in Zeeland and Holland to be flooded. Thousands died. Some land was eventually reclaimed, some remains flooded to this day. The Dordrecht region was particularly damaged and the survivors commissioned an altarpiece, with outer panels depicting the disaster. As you can see from the close up below, the painting includes lots of interesting details. At the bottom right a woman in Maasdam has been left behind and looks out on the devastation from her cottage. A shop is ignored by a couple in a boat as they concentrate on saving themselves. And in the top right the flood water can be seen flooding the polder near the church of Wieldrecht. Elsewhere in the paintings there is a pig trying to swim ashore, a dead body in the water, a naked man caught in a tree, a cat balanced on a baby's cradle and a refugee arriving at the gates of Dordrecht. 


I saw these panels in the Stedelijk Museum recently after we'd been to the Vermeer exhibition. They have a guide to the picture that you can pick up and refer to - the image below is from this, showing the location of some of the villages. It indicates how the artist has created an interesting kind of landscape painting, expansive and extremely condensed at the same time, utilising a birds eye view, reducing distances and restricting places to just one or two buildings. Hollands Diep in the middle was an estuary which the flood extended further inland, separating the towns of Geertruidenberg and Dordrecht. The Biesboch is now a wetland national park, but before the flood it was Grote Hollandse Waard, cultivated farmland with several villages. We are quite used to seeing images of flooded landscapes now but I found it moving to think that all this took place six hundred years ago.


Sunday, April 09, 2023

Tidmarsh Mill


Dora Carrington, Tidmarsh Mill, c. 1918


I recently read the new Frances Spalding book The Real and the Romantic: English Art Between Two World Wars. This painting is included in the chapter 'Landscape and Places of the Mind' which mainly discussed the Nash brothers. Paul was at the Slade with Carrington and John became her close friend. 'He taught her wood engraving and she shared with him her enjoyment of authors such as Gilbert White, William Cobbett and Richard Jefferies.' Tidmarsh Mill was influenced by Carrington's love of the Pre-Raphaelites. Spalding praises another painting from 1921 and suggests 'Carrington might have achieved further success with the painting of landscape had her personal life been less fraught and her artistic interests less diverse.' Interesting, although I've always liked the Tate's Spanish Landscape with Mountains (c. 1924), which Spalding doesn't mention, one of two paintings completed at Tidmarsh Mill but begun in Spain

In a survey like the Real and the Romantic it's always fascinating to see who gets included and who doesn't. She mentions for example that Eric Ravilious's 'reputation has soared' - he was completely ignored in Charles Harrison's 1981 book English Art and Modernism 1900-1939'. Her chapter 'Landscape and Places of the Mind' begins with realist street scenes painted by the East London Group. These paintings have started drawing attention recently for the way they capture a city that has undergone huge changes since the war - she cites the recent book by Spitalfields blogger The Gentle Author.  Spalding says 'actual talent within the group was uneven' but reproduces a nice painting by Elwin Hawthorne, Cumberland Market (1931), and suggests that empty scenes by artists like Harold Steggles have an Edward Hopperish quality.

Other landscape art covered in The Real and the Romantic:

  • Chapter 1, 'Pitiless Realism' - she includes the familiar blasted visions of mud, and broken trees by John and Paul Nash, but also praises another striking First World War scene by D. Y. Cameron, The Battlefield of Ypres (1919), empty and partially covered in snow.
  • Chapter 3, 'On the Move' - 'few landscape artists settled long enough to imbibe the spirit of a place.' Scenes painted on their travels by Charles Cundell, Matthew Smith and David Bomberg are discussed. She also covers depictions of travel itself, like Eric Ravilious's Train Landscape (1940).
  • Chapter 5, 'Beginning Again' - among other things this covers Ben Nicholson's move towards abstraction and reproduces a couple of his semi-abstract views of Italy and St. Ives.

Winifred Knights, Edge of Abruzzi: Boat with Three People on a Lake, 1924-30   
  • Chapter 8, 'Make it Real' - a chapter arguing that qualities like stillness and clarity were as much a part of Modernism as the impetus to 'make it new'. Winifred Knights' painting exemplifies this. Spalding also discusses Evelyn Dunbar, Tristram Hillier and the etcher F. L. Griggs. The chapter ends with another aspect of 'the real', Alfred Wallis's fishing scenes drawing on his own lived experiences.  

  • Chapter 9, 'Revivalism' - the artists returned to for inspiration in this period included Canaletto (Algernon Newton's paintings, which look as if they were done in the late eighteenth century), Samuel Palmer (Graham Sutherland), and the English watercolourists (Eric Ravilious).  
  • Chapter 12, 'The Spanish Civil War, Mondrian in London and Neo-Romanticism' - this final chapter gives a sense of the 'multiplicity of styles' being pursued in the late thirties. She discusses John Piper's move away from abstraction and reproduces Graham Bell's Thomasen Park, Bolton, a misty view of the city painted at the urging of anthropologist Tom Harrison. Neo-Romanticism is briefly covered but the cut-off means we only get to see an early drawing by John Minton.