Norman Stevens, ARA : Selected Prints : Royal Academy Artist of the Month

Back in 1984 we first ‘discovered’ Norman Stevens’ prints at the Bradford Biennale held at Cartwright Hall, Bradford from 15 April to 15 July.

Biennale Catalogue

Catalogue from the 1984 Bradford Biennale

At that show we remember admiring Stevens’ print “Construction Company” and a year or so later visited The Coriander Studio and to see “Laurel Tree, Nettlecombe Court” and others of his prints.

Construction Co Cat page

Construction Company Catalogue Page

Construction Co ours

Construction Company

Laurel Nettlecombe

Laurel Tree, Nettlecombe Court

Just by chance we discovered that The Royal Academy was showing a selection of Stevens’ prints in their ‘Artist of the Month’ slot. Fortunately, not showing for a month but from 26 February until 25 May 2014. I was able to check out the exhibition last Sunday.

Burlington House flag

Welcome to Burlington House – Home of the Royal Academy

It was interesting to see the other prints on display including his version of Monet’s Garden and I love his topiary prints and his fences and gates.

RA

The Royal Academy

Norman Stevens was born in Bradford in 1937 and was a student at Bradford College of Art and contemporary of David Hockney RA. He taught himself printmaking and this was his preferred medium. Sadly he died in 1988.

NS Poster

The Royal Academy says of this two room exhibition :

This spring we present the much admired prints of Norman Stevens ARA, an artist who originally trained as a painter alongside John Loker, David Hockney RA and David Oxtoby in the 1950s at Bradford College of Art. A master of the medium, Stevens taught himself printmaking in the early 1970s and in the process, found an art form that perfectly suited his meticulous and subtle approach. Exploring the landscape and built environment, his prints make use of colour, light and shade to powerful and often haunting effect. Human presence is always suggested but never shown, a quality that the art critic, William Packer, has likened to a ‘game of hide-and-seek with the real world’. At the heart of the exhibition are important groups of prints including Stevens’ depictions of Venetian blinds and ‘clapboard’ houses, his distinctive images of Stonehenge and his captivating views of English formal gardens. From his first black and white etchings to the large-scale prints he produced in the 1980s, discover the work of an artist who developed an international reputation for his technically brilliant and beguiling prints.” [RA website]

N Stevens guide etc

It’s possible to visit just to see this show. The charge is £3 and a rather nice Gallery Guide is included in the price. There are no books, print reproductions nor postcards of Stevens’ work available from the shop but one book did take my fancy!

Ken Howard's Switzerland

Ken Howard’s Switzerland : in the Footsteps of Turner

“William Kent : Designing Georgian Britain” at The Victoria and Albert Museum

Polymath Transforms Georgian England!

w290

 William Kent (1685 – 17480) [source]

What a man! William Kent was hugely influential within Georgian English aristocratic circles. His designs spanned the widest spectrum of English upper class design from art to architecture and from furniture to gardens. Kent’s patrons included Lord and Lady Burlington, the Cokes of Leicester, the Walpoles of Houghton. Influenced by his early visits to Italy it’s surprising that William Kent is not far better known. This exhibition at the V&A tells his story with rich illustrations and varied artefacts. Go yourself and ponder why William Kent is not more familiar to us today.

I wrote that little appreciation/review for the ticket agent that supplied our tickets for the show last Friday afternoon.

The Georgians are big business as 2014 marks 300 years since the accession of George I thus beginning a succession of Hanoverian Kings of England which lasted until 1830.

The season started well with the British Library’s overview The Georgians Revealed that covered many aspects of life in 18th and early 19th century Britain. There are significant exhibitions at The Queen’s Gallery : The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy 1714-1760 and at The Historic Royal Palaces (Kensington Palace; Kew Palace and Hampton Court Palace) : The Glorious Georges. And BBC television is currently broadcasting a month-long Georgian season.

William Kent Paintings

Slideshow of William Kent Paintings

William Kent was born in Bridlington, North Yorkshire, the son of a carpenter. From 1709 to 1719 he studied in Rome, copying Old Master paintings and learning the techniques of etching and engraving. Here in Italy he was to meet Lord Burlington who, with his wife, became patron and good friend to Kent. Burlington gave him his first commissions back in England and helped to set Kent off on his course designing for many of the great English landowners.

kent_holkham_4

 A Kent-designed chair from Holkham Hall

Kent designed the interiors of many stately homes including Houghton Hall, home of the Walpoles, in Norfolk.

Houghton Hall

 Exterior of Houghton Hall, Norfolk

Stowe

Stowe Landscape Garden with Gothic Temple and Palladian Bridge

Most of all Kent is best-known to me as the designer of landscape gardens.

Elysium

Kent’s landscape designs confirm his status as the artistic genius of the era, a father of the English landscape garden. In contrast with the French and Dutch fashions for formal gardens, Kent took his inspiration from the ideal landscapes of pastoral literature and painting. His design drawings are not detailed plans, but poetic evocations of the landscape effects he was attempting to achieve.

Kent’s gardens could be places of activity and good fellowship, or places of reflection and solitude. Carefully crafted vistas lead the eye out beyond the garden into the surrounding countryside. He designed over fifty garden buildings which were positioned to act as picturesque focal points for views and also as places from which to contemplate the garden. His buildings vary from sober copies of ancient buildings to wild flights of fancy, from pyramids, triumphal arches and Chinese kiosks to grottoes and artificial ruins.” [V&A website]

Quotation-William-Kent-painting-gardening-Meetville-Quotes-104548

Ruin Lust at Tate Britain

RUIN : “The physical destruction or disintegration of something or the state of disintegrating or being destroyed”

According to the little leaflet that accompanies this Tate Britain exhibition the title Ruin Lust was taken from the German word Ruinenlust. 

Ruin Lust

Ruins are curious objects of desire: they seduce us with decay and destruction” it goes on to say. Although I found the whole show intriguing and was amazed at the countless interpretations of the word ‘ruin’, by far the most interesting part for me was the initial ‘Pleasure of Ruins’ section.

Ruins of West Front, Tintern Abbey circa 1794-5 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

W M Turner’s Tintern Abbey (1794) which was emblematic of the new trend to visit ruins at home rather than on a Grand European Tour.

Here were the traditional interpretations; the paintings, photographs and etchings that I had expected to see in an exhibition with this title. My interest in landscape and man’s influence on it is mainly historical. So, although I appreciate that modern day ‘Bunker Archaeology’ and Tacita Dean’s films and ‘Ruins in Reverse’ and [modern] ‘Cities in Dust’ all have a part to play in an overall picture of ruins over the centuries I prefer to see historical ruins of abbeys and castles and even the man-made ruins that gave character and focal points to 18th century landscape gardens.

Leaving Yorke's Folly

The man-made Yorke’s Folly in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire built in 1810

“A craze for ruins gripped European culture in the eighteenth century. Classical remains inspired artists such as Piranesi to depict great civilisations falling into decay. British architects and garden designers embraced this ruinous aesthetic, and artificial ruins were a popular addition to many great estates. William Gilpin’s writings on the picturesque encouraged many tourists — as well as artists such as J.M.W. Turner and John Sell Cotman — to travel in search of picturesque views of medieval ruins. Later, photography became essential to the recording and reimagining of ruins.

I remember reading in the newspaper probably 15 years ago [and commending] English Heritage’s intentions to conserve and deliberately retain the wildness surrounding Wigmore Castle in Herefordshire. Some ruins these days are just too manicured.

gallerywigmorecastle1

A GLORIOUS RUIN
Wigmore has an overgrown appearance that once characterised many ruined sites. When conserving the site in the 1990s, English Heritage deliberately retained its wildness, as the castle had become home to rare and unusual species including lesser horseshoe bats and wild flowers like ploughman’s spikenard. Accumulated debris was allowed to remain, and the grasses, ferns and flowers growing on the walls were carefully lifted up and replaced as ‘soft-capping’ to protect the walls from rain and more destructive plants like trees. [From the EH website]

To finish here are some recently visited picturesque ruins in Yorkshire and beyond.

Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey

The Ruin

The Ruin a Landmark Trust property at Hackfall, North Yorkshire

Bradgate Park

Ruins of the former home of Lady Jane Grey, Bradgate Park, Leicester

Kenilworth

The Ruins of Kenilworth Castle

Spofforth Castle

Spofforth Castle, Yorkshire, visited on a recent hike

Window ruin Spofforth

Ruined Window, Spofforth Castle

Doorway ruin Spofforth

Ruined Doorway, Spofforth Castle

Here is a brief review of the exhibition by Christopher Beanland; which finished by showing ‘The London Nobody Knows’ documentary featuring James Mason in the derelict Bedford Theatre in Camden. The unabridged film is now available on DVD.

 

 

 

 

The Garden Museum

Some exhibitions, especially those national museum ‘blockbusters’, are just too unwieldy but the bijou exhibition Fashion and the Garden occupied just over half an hour of my visit the the Garden Museum on Thursday. Just a short walk along the Albert Embankment (opposite The Houses of Parliament) from Westminster Tube Station, the Garden Museum is right next door to Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury. GM exterior Formerly known as the Museum of Garden History, The Garden Museum is based in the deconsecrated parish church of St Mary-at-Lambeth. I’d met up with my friend Rosanna (the mosaics maker) with whom I had recently been to see The Isabella Blow Show at Somerset House. Garden Museum Church

Inside the Garden Museum with Rebecca Louise Law Installation

After morning coffee in the Museum Cafe (we couldn’t resist a tiny home-cooked apple tart as well – all the food served looked very acceptable!) we headed under Rebecca Louise Law’s installation ‘The Flower Garden Display’d’ for the Fashion and the Garden exhibit that I had read about recently in the press. Booklet

The Accompanying Booklet

Put together by Nicola Shulman, sister of British Vogue editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman, the displays cover fashion and garden connections between the 17th and 21st centuries.

TV Introduction

unknow artist-796785

This portrait of Lettice Newdigate (1608) by an unknown artist is the first known example of a Knot Garden in art.

Influences of gardens on fashion extend over time from knot gardens reproduced through embroidery on clothing to Philip Treacy hats such as the Orchid.

Philip_Treacy__Orchid

Philip Treacy Orchid Hat

I noted that an interest in flowers is a very English characteristic. They have featured in English clothing designs throughout the centuries where they are absent, for example, in France. There were exquisitely embroidered gloves and pockets; flowers feature in the silk designs of Anna Maria Garthwaite and other 18th century Spitalfields silk weavers; phaeton carriages were built very high so that owners and their families and guests could drive around their landscape parks and show off; and then there are the clothes that we wear when visiting gardens or even when gardening.

It’s a small show but perfectly formed.

We had time to visit the permanent collection – gnomes; gardening tools from trowels to lawnmowers; rare books; paintings such the recently acquired ‘Portrait of a Black Gardener‘ by Harold Gilman; posters, ephemera and garden seed packet displays.

Yates Seeds

Yates Seeds. No longer sold in the UK but still available in Australia and New Zealand.

The Museum’s garden was created in 1980. At its heart is a knot garden designed by the Museum’s President, The Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury (who was then also re-making the gardens at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire). The reason for the seventeenth-century spirit of the design is that our garden also houses the tomb of the great plant-hunters, gardeners and collectors, John Tradescant the Elder (c.1570-1638) and Younger (1608-1662), the rediscovery of which originally inspired the creation of a museum of garden history in the deconsecrated, and then derelict, church of St Mary-at-Lambeth.” From the Garden Museum website.

Tradescant Tomb

The Tradescant Tomb

In addition to the tomb and monument to the Tradescants is the tomb of Captain William Bligh of ‘The Bounty’.

Tomb of Bligh

Captain Bligh Tomb

I’m Invited! – A Shopping Evening at The London Review Book Shop

You’re invited!

At the London Review Bookshop, we have some upcoming events that are too good to keep to ourselves. Tickets are limited, so book early to avoid disappointment :

April Customer Evening

Wednesday 2 April, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Browse our shelves with a glass of wine and an Eccles cake from the London Review Cake Shop, and get 10% off any books, DVDs, cards and stationery purchased on the evening. We are also offering a FREE gift wrapping service on the night.

Tonight’s menu: According to The Bloomsbury Cookbook, Virginia and Leonard Woolf considered Eccles cakes suitable sustenance for type-setting and printing at the Hogarth Press. We think they make suitable sustenance for book browsing too! We’re pairing them with nutty Lancashire cheese and plenty of Russian tea.

Caravan tea

Eccles Cake pieces, Lancashire cheese crumbs and slurps of Russian Caravan Tea

As well as the usual treats – wine and nibbles and 10% off books – you’ll have the chance to win a copy of the beautiful Bloomsbury Cookbook, courtesy of Thames & Hudson. Just print a copy of your confirmation email and hand it in to one of our booksellers at the Customer Evening for the chance to win.

Good luck!

Bloomsbury cook book

The Bloomsbury Cookbook Window Display

This message arrived in my email Inbox a few weeks ago and I worked out that my next visit to London would coincide with this customer evening. The London Review Bookshop is another of my favourite London shops. On many occasions I have visited the Cake Shop with friends, family and to meet members of the online book group. It’s one of our favourite venues.

Shopping evening

Shopping Evening at London Review Bookshop

However, on many visits, time in the Cake Shop takes priority and I find I have little time to browse the bookshelves. So I was looking forward to spending time in the actual bookshop for a change.

The Bloomsbury Cookbook looked very tempting … but I was expecting to win a copy! I haven’t received the ‘winners email’ yet though :-( . I think I will reserve a copy from the Library as it may be useful to contribute to creating the atmosphere when I visit Sussex and the Bloomsbury connections later next month.

Charleston breakfast

 Breakfast at Charleston

I spotted some other books to add to my list for the future :

History of Armchair travel

A History of Armchair Travel : I do a bit of this. What’s not to like?

Quiet New York

Quiet New York : I have no plans to visit but I do have companion Quiet volumes – London and Paris

(I could be tempted to buy this just to read, anyway)

Sebald

I’m a big fan of the late W.G.Sebald – new books keep being published!

I found the staff were very patient and helpful. They found each of the titles I wanted to buy, recommended a further title and hunted high and low for a book which should have been in stock but being a very slim volume had probably been mis-shelved.

Books bought

The four books I bought last evening

LRB Window

The Cake Shop Window Display – I’m Looking Forward to My Next Visit!

 

Fashion Galore! and The Georgians Revealed

In addition to Uproar! at The Ben Uri Gallery I managed to fit in two further shows in London this week. On Monday (half price day) I accompanied a friend to see “Isabella Blow : Fashion Galore!” a spectacular exhibition of fashion and accessories from the collection of Isabella Blow at Somerset House.

British Library

And  on Tuesday I met my sister at The British Library to see “The Georgians Revealed : life, style and the making of Modern Britain”. A far cry from each you might think but not so! There was Ms Blow with her aristocratic background, her celebrity lifestyle, her fashion journalism  and her promotion and patronage of design and style and fashion in clothes and shoes and hats. And there were the Georgians apparently just as obsessed with the cult of celebrity, with their outrageous fashions, with the first newspapers and popular magazines and with their aristocrats living in homes just like the one Ms Blow grew up in.

Born Isabella Delves Broughton brought up at the family seat is Doddington Park, near Nantwich, Cheshire. She became fashion director of The Tatler. She worked at Vogue and was an innovative editor the Sunday Times Style magazine.  Blow is credited with discovering such designers as Alexander McQueen, milliner Philip Treacy and Hussein Chalayan, as well as models Sophie Dahl and Stella Tennant.

Postcard

Postcard from Isabella Blow : Fashion Galore!

Sadly, I have the impression that Isabella Blow could not cope with the changes and developments of the mood of fashion in the 21st century and she took her own life on 7 May 2007. Bu the exhibition certainly reflects a passion for fashion and is filled with colour and style and flamboyance reflected through the work of the designers she collected and promoted in particular Philip Treacy and Alexander McQueen.

Blow flyer

If I have one complaint about the exhibition, which was simply spectacular, it would be that the first few showcases illustrating Blow’s early life displayed scrapbooks and letters which everyone wanted to study closely and led to a jam of people at the start of the show which later easily dispersed.

Georgians large

The Georgians Revealed  marks the 300th anniversary of the accession of King George I in 1714 and reveals the unprecedented economic, social and cultural changes in Britain under the four successive kings of the House of Hanover. By 1830, when George IV died, every aspect of daily life had been transformed.

The show is divided into three broad areas illustrating their influences on :

1) Public places, private spaces

“New ideas of taste and politeness influenced much of Georgian life from the elegant new streets and squares to the entertainments enjoyed at home. London and the major provincial towns were transformed by classical architecture, providing new public buildings and comfortable homes for the elite and middle classes. Gardens and parks were radically redesigned. Formal parterres gave way to expansive lawns and exotically planted flowerbeds. In the home, luxury and comfort were to be had in refined new styles of interior decoration and a range of fashionable furniture made to order.

But the population of the British Isles tripled to some 24 million, there was disorder and want too. The poor often had just a single room to house a family, and popular public places, such as pleasure gardens and coffee houses, were also sites of bawdy entertainment, crime and scandal. Nevertheless, new middle class homes and gardens reflected the growing wealth and confidence of Georgian Britain and created a lifestyle to which many still aspire.” [Source The Exhibition Guide]

2) Buying luxury, acquiring style

Georgian Fashion

“The East India Company was central to the import of luxury goods during much of the Georgian period. As Britain grew more powerful in the successive wars of the 18th and early 19th centuries, the company extended its monopoly over trade with the East Indies. Tea, coffee and sugar changed the lifestyles as well as the diets of the Georgians. British manufacturers enticed consumers with cheaper goods that copied those from abroad.

Shopping became a popular social activity. Advertising in newspapers, printed handbills and beautifully designed trade cards, encouraged spending on a wide range of luxuries. The fashion industry was born, as newspapers and magazines began regular commentaries on celebrity clothes and accessories. All who could afford it aspired to be fashionable.” [Source The Exhibition Guide]

3) Pleasures of society, virtues of culture

“Sociability to the Georgians was central to daily life, inspiring a huge increase in public entertainments. Theatre was well established, playhouses became larger and new theatrical genres catered for a wider and more diverse audience. Assembly Rooms were built where gentile society could show off their dancing skills, take refreshments and gamble. Pleasure gardens and masquerades added spice to social gatherings. All these opportunities to see and be seen, and to be reported on in print, fed a new culture of celebrity.” [Source The Exhibition Guide]

Georgeobelisk

Outside, in the British Library courtyard, is the Georgeobelisk a 6 metre high eye-catcher which evokes the playfulness of temporary theatrical constructions that were popular during the Georgian period to mark special occasions or important historical events.

Cityscapes

I recommend both exhibitions if you can get to them!

“Like a jewel box shimmering in amber candlelight” – Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Programme

Tuesday evening was my last in London and I returned home on Wednesday morning.

The title quote is from a review in The Guardian.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to buy the last ticket for the evening performance of The Duchess of Malfi at the brand new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe by the riverside in Southwark. I’ve visited its sister theatre The Globe proper several times and loved each performance. In rain and in sunshine and with a bench seat and cushion I have looked down on the (in my view) unlucky groundlings in the pit. These theatres are not built for comfort.

I’ll warn you now about the seating. Unlike in the Globe itself no cushions are required as all the benches (to call them seats would be an exaggeration) are padded. By lucky chance I was on the back row of four in the pit and I had a back wall (of sorts) to lean against (kind of). Looking round, and thinking of possible future visits, I could see none better to go for. As it happened, in the end, the comfort of the seats was unimportant.

This play and its performance in the intimate (seating for just 340), candle-lit auditorium was one of my theatre-visiting highlights of all time. And I can think of quite a few good ‘uns.

Candelabra

The candles themselves played a part in the performance; even just the lighting of them and the blowing out of them. The candelabras rise and fall from the ceiling, single candles are carried by actors and others flicker in their sconces. All contribute the atmosphere and action as the performance unfolds. I’ve been unable to add the Youtube video about the candles but scroll down through this link to watch.

G Arterton

Gemma Arterton – The Duchess – with her candle

Sconce

Candles in a Sconce

“The Duchess of Malfi” was written by John Webster (1580-1634) and first performed around 1613-1614.

The widowed Duchess of Malfi longs to marry her lover, the steward Antonio. But her rancorous brothers, Ferdinand and the Cardinal, are implacably opposed to the match. When their spy, Bosola, discovers that the Duchess has secretly married and carries Antonio’s child, they exact a terrible and horrific revenge.

First performed by the King’s Men – Shakespeare’s own company – ‘privately at the Blackfriars and publicly at the Globe’, The Duchess of Malfi is a thrilling combination of brilliant coups de théâtre, horrific set-pieces and vivid characters – notably the tragic Duchess and the subtly villainous Bosola – all lit by Webster’s obsessional imagination.” [Source]

I’m looking forward to more visits to The Globe and The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in future!