Rothenstein’s Relevance at The Ben Uri Gallery

RR poster

In January 2014 I visited the Ben Uri Gallery in north London and today I was back there again.  It’s very fortuitous that I happen to be dog-sitting again when another excellent show is on at the Gallery. Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945) was born in Bradford and attended Bradford Grammar School and was a very significant figure in the art world in the first half of the 20th century.


Apart from him being an Old Bradfordian (as are both our sons) I came across his work during a Victorian Studies course where I chose portraits of women reading as an essay theme. The Browning Readers normally hangs in Cartwright Hall Gallery in Bradford but I was delighted to see it again today. I was also astonished to discover that I had missed another Rothenstein exhibition virtually on my doorstep at Cartwright Hall, Bradford: From Bradford to Benares : The Art of Sir William Rothenstein. Luckily, I’m on the Ben Uri mailing list. (I’ve now subscribed to Bradford Museums’ list) Many of the pictures are on loan from northern galleries and, in particular, Bradford Museums.

Browning Readers

The Browning Readers

Alice (Rothenstein’s wife) and her sister Grace (future wife of William Orpen) modelled for The Browning Readers in the living room of his cottage in Edwardes Square, Kensington. This was the third of his compositions expressing admiration for the poet Robert Browning. Rothenstein’s biographer (Robert Speaight) has noted how it also ‘had an uncovenanted influence on interior decoration. The brass plate, and blue and white vase, with branches of spring blossom, which were the only adornment of the mantelpiece, started a craze for simplicity’. [Adapted from gallery notes]

Anyway, back to the actual exhibition, which has been perfectly curated on the two floors of the gallery. On the ground floor [entrance] is an introduction to Rothenstein’s work and examples of his Jewish Rituals series painted between 1904 and 1907 and exhibited here alongside another work with which I’m very familiar, normally on display at Leeds City Art Gallery, Jacob Kramer’s Day of AtonementIn 1903 Rothenstein took a studio in Spital Square, Whitechapel and invited several older men from the local synagogue to sit for him.

grd floor ben uri

Entrance area to Ben Uri Gallery

Below stairs in the basement are the portraits and war paintings. The Browning Readers greets you at the bottom of the stairs in a room of Rothenstein’s Bradford and Gloucester portraits. His are less a celebration of celebrity or individual contemporary characters but rather they depict highly decorative costumes, social or religious characters and close familial relationships.

Miss Grant

Miss Grant [c1925]

Moritz R

Moritz Rothenstein (Father) [c1900]

Bertha R

Bertha Rothenstein (Mother) [c1900]

Coster Girls

Coster Girls [1894]

Coster Woman

The Coster Woman by Mark Gertler [1923]

Rothenstein’s three Gloucestershire portraits also appear here; the gardener and priest courtesy of Bradford Museums and the thatcher from Manchester City Galleries.

Ol Gardener

The Old Gardener [c1930]

village priest

The Village Priest [c1925]

Glos portraits

Eli the Thatcher [c1913]

The final room focusses on Rothenstein’s role as an official war artist in both the first and second world wars. In 1916 Lord Northcliffe decided that Britain should send distinguished artists to the front to record the fighting and its effects. His were desolate landscapes, shattered trees, ruined buildings with no human presence. He sketched whilst under fire, helped in hospitals and practiced his limited Hindi on Indian soldiers. He was later involved in the Canadian War Memorial scheme in France.

Blasted trees

Blasted Trees

Bourlon wood

Bourlon Wood, by Eric Kennington [1919]

It was an unusual distinction to be war artist in both world wars but due to his age and health he did not travel abroad during the Second World War. He produced a series of 40 drawings of RAF pilots published in 1942 by the Oxford University Press under the title ‘Men of the RAF’. His wartime pictures are accompanied by comparative works by Eric Kennington in the first war and Barnett Freedman in the second.

In addition to this show the Ben Uri Gallery is celebrating its centenary with an exhibition in a much larger space  – The Inigo Rooms at Somerset House. Out of Chaos explores a century of emigré history in London through the hidden treasures of the Ben Uri Collections. And some of Rothenstein’s work is owned by the Tate Gallery; notably, The Dolls House (currently on display) and Mother and Child (not currently on display).

Port Eliot Festival Revisited

Last year I was very happy to attend The Port Eliot Festival in Cornwall as one of Lynne’s team in the Dovegreyreader tent. At the time I decided that I’d be back again this year as a visitor and see more of what was on offer. I mentioned this to three friends and we all decided to book a cottage in Cornwall for the week and spend at least one day at the Festival. Not long after, the National Trust Cottage ‘Harbour View’ at Boscastle was booked for the week 31st July to 7th August and day tickets bought for the Festival for Saturday 1st August.

Harbour View

Harbour View at Boscastle

Continue reading

Libraries Big and Libraries Small [3]

Dublin is a City of Words, a UNESCO City of Literature and a city with some great libraries. On my visits in May I managed to get to two of these. I’m looking forward to future trips when I may visit other literary locations across the city.

Most highly recommended to me was The Chester Beatty Library right in the centre of the city and within the walls of the grounds of Dublin Castle itself.

Dublin Castle 1

Dublin Castle

“For over 800 years Dublin Castle has been at the heart of Irish history. From the founding of the first Celtic settlement in the 1st century A.D. to every Presidential inauguration since the foundation of the state, the site has stood witness to some of the most pivotal events in the country’s history.” So it’s interesting enough just walking through the Castle precincts.

about the cbl

Chester Beatty (1875-1968) was an American mining engineer. He had been an avid collector since childhood – stamps, Chinese snuff bottles, rocks and minerals. During the first decades of the 20th century Beatty moved to Europe and began to collect European and Persian manuscripts and decorated copies of the Qur’an. He took an interest in Japan, the Orient and Egypt. He actually bought a house near the Pyramids.

CB library

He later bought modern editions but had very conservative taste. He preferred books where the text and image formed pleasing compositions. Such as here a Gregynog Press issue of The Fables of Esope, 1931.



No photography allowed but I found the above pictures here

He loved books for their own sake as opposed to having a love for literature. He was attracted to decorated books/illustrations/iluminations and fine bindings. He didn’t like modern art and avant garde book designers, illustrators and binders are not represented in his collection. His mantra was “quality, quality, quality”. He was probably the last of the great book collectors after J. Pierpoint Morgan and Henry E. Huntington. Beatty also appreciated the 18th and 19th century print cabinets essential to the gentleman’s library.

In 1950 Chester Beatty decided to move to Ireland and he built a library for his art collection on Shrewsbury Road which opened in 1954. Upon his death, the collection was bequeathed to a trust for the benefit of the public and his priceless collection lives on as a celebration of the spirit and generosity of Chester Beatty.

I enjoyed studying the short videos demonstrating print techniques : woodcuts, engraving, etching, lithography and chromolithography. And a trust fund allows the Library to continue buying works today which complement the original collection. It was during my visit to The Chester Beatty Library that I realised that I’m really much more interested in printed books and printing methods than in the beautiful and exquisite manuscripts.

Charles Beatty summed up his life “It has all been a great adventure”.

Dublin Castle 2

The Castle Grounds and Grass Maze

Moving on from the Chester Beatty Library I headed back through the Castle precincts and after a quick lunch in the lovely Avoca store found my way to The National Library of Ireland. A friend, and fellow member of the Leeds Library, recommended to me after a recent visit “YEATS: the life and works of William Butler Yeats” [1865-1939]. It’s an almost permanent exhibition (ongoing since 2006) but it is particularly relevant this year as 2015 is the 150th anniversary of Yeats’s birth.


The National Library of Ireland’s collection of Yeats manuscripts is the largest collection of Yeats material in a single institution anywhere in the world. This collection is at the heart of the exhibition which you can visit for yourselves here.

I was particularly interested to discover more about the life of Ireland’s national poet. He came from a family of artists and creatives. He played a huge role in the establishment of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin which he founded along with Lady Augusta Gregory in 1904 with the main aim of promoting Irish writers and artists which is still incorporated in its charter today. He had a great interest in the occult and Celtic mysticism. Many of his poems are about places in Ireland, and elsewhere.

places 1 places 2 places 3

By coincidence during my trip in May HRH The Prince of Wales and his wife The Duchess of Cornwall also visited Ireland and planted a tree at the grave of William Butler Yeats at Drumcliffe, Co. Sligo.

RTE picture of Charles and Camilla









Birdy Thursday at Norwich Castle and Hickling Broad

Norwich Castle

Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery

The Wonder of Birds exhibition is currently showing at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. I’ve written about a gallery visit here before. One Thursday a couple of weeks ago when I was in Norwich for a few days visiting family I thought I’d see what all the fuss about birds was all about. Well, it was about quite a lot of amazing stuff, actually.

Wonder of birds

When I first heard that The Wonder of Birds was to be next up I wasn’t too keen. Then I read this article in the Guardian and saw the accompanying pictures and changed my mind. Many of the artefacts and pictures came from the Museum’s own collections.

The Wonder of Birds’ explores the cultural impact of birds upon mankind. Eliciting a wide range of emotions from awe to fear, from pleasure to cruelty – birds have intrigued humanity since the earliest of times. The exhibition will span the centuries, informed by local and national collections, to include the arts, natural history, archaeology, fashion and social history. Works by major artists and illustrators, historical and contemporary, will be included and the exhibition will examine local, national and international issues.

Metal bird

Spring Cuckoo by Harriet Mead, 2009

‘The Wonder of Birds’ comprises six sections, each highlighting a different aspect of birds, their meanings and our relationships with them. It begins by introducing the visitor to the breadth of this fascinating subject: what is a bird; what do they mean to us; how have we studied, portrayed, preserved, endangered and used them?


Adult Male Paradise Parrot : Frederick Strange, taxidermist, 1851

Section 2, ‘Predators and Prey’ … Section 3, ‘Birds & Landscape’, primarily examines birds in East Anglia, …  Section 4, ‘Migrants and Ocean Travellers’, will examine the seasonal behaviour which may take migrating birds from Norfolk to the Arctic, Africa or South America …Section 5 is titled ‘Introducing the Exotic’. Exotic birds have always been coveted for their brilliant plumage, combined with their sheer rarity value, both as high status pets and for their feathers.

Feather hat

Exotic feathered hat from the 1960s

‘The Realms of the Spirit’, the final section, will illustrate how songbirds and their relatives have symbolised the immortal soul, been seen as heralds of the seasons, messengers from heaven, or magical beings moving between the worlds.” [Museum website]


Bird related postcards in the Museum Shop

I discovered that birds may not need humans but humans certainly do need birds. They appear in our decorative arts, religion, symbolism, folklore, heraldry, fashion, literature and language.

The 147 million year old Archaeopteryx fossil cast is the earliest known bird. The Natural History Museum cares for the first skeleton specimen ever found and this spectacular fossil helped prove that modern birds evolved from dinosaurs. It was the first example providing support for Darwin’s theory of evolution. It is the most valuable fossil in the NHM’s collection.


Archaeopteryx fossil [source]

I saw an exquisite hollie point (English needle lace) baby’s Christening cap featuring a dove – a visual reminder of the Holy Spirit …


Here is a similar example [source]

… and a pincushion made by Sylvia Pankhurst whilst she was incarcerated in Holloway Prison and a copy of the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner’s Bestiary ‘Historiae animalium’ which must have been seen by Mary, Queen of Scots. A group of her embroideries The Oxburgh Hangings feature animals and birds from this book.

Oxburgh hanging

Bird detail from the Oxburgh Hangings [Source – V&A]

Hambling heronMaggi Hambling’s Heron

The section on birds in the landscape featured Maggi Hambling’s Heron in the shallows of the Thames bearing its environmental message. The bird has a mouthful of sewage.

Then in the afternoon I saw birds in their true East Anglian landscape. I drove out to the Norfolk Broads to meet up with an old schoolfriend and we walked around Hickling Broad stopping to look at a variety of birds including a goldfinch, a plump of geese * and many different species from a hide along our path.

* The collective noun for a group of geese on the ground is a gaggle; when in flight, they are called a skein, a team or a wedge; when flying close together, they are called a plump. [source]


A Goldfinch

Hickling from hide

Hickling Broad from the Hide


The Plump of Geese from the Hide

red sails

Typical Broads View

Ladybird birds

I must have been interested in birds once upon a time – my well-loved book!

Only in England : Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr

Intro Poster

Later this month I’ll be assisting Dovegreyreader (alias Lynne) at the Port Eliot Festival in Cornwall. Any posts I may do about events may be on here or maybe over at Lynne’s blog.

M Parr 1976

One of Lynne’s guests will be the photographer Martin Parr. For many years I have been intrigued by Parr’s photos. We had lots of his titles in my library so I would often have a look and wonder to myself – Is this a put up job? Or are the subjects unaware that they are having their picture taken?

MP book

Parr Book

 A Couple of Parr’s books in the Museum Shop : sandals are the theme of the day

Until Lynne gave me the nod I was unaware that Parr was involved in an exhibition locally: Only in England : Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr. It was showing at the National Media Museum in Bradford until the end of June. Bradford is but a few miles away so the other Saturday afternoon I took a trip over there to see what the exhibition was all about.

I found that the two galleries of the exhibition were complementary to each other exploring the relationships between Tony Ray-Jones (1941-72) and Martin Parr (b.1952). Parr was invited by the Curator of Photographs, Greg Hobson, to study the Ray-Jones archive (acquired by the Museum in 1993) and help bring together a collection for display alongside early work of Parr’s centred on the local Calder Valley between 1975 and 1979 when he himself lived in Hebden Bridge. “The Non-Conformists” was his first major body of work.

Non-Con Book

Ray-Jones spent the latter half of the 1960s travelling around England photographing what he thought of as fast-disappearing way of life. He also spent half a year travelling in the USA but sadly Tony Ray-Jones died in 1972, aged 30, of leukaemia.

“Ray-Jones was interested in the eccentricities of human behaviour, which for him embodied the English personality. He approached his project like an anthropologist, thoroughly researching his methods, locations and subjects. The resulting photographs are remarkable. Characterised by wry humour, they are nonetheless full of melancholy and lament the disappearing cultures that influenced Ray-Jones’s own emotional and artistic development. The England that Ray-Jones photographed is very different to the England of today.” [Information board at the exhibition]

“Ray-Jones’s photographs of the English seaside were a powerful influence on Martin Parr. He was fascinated by Ray-Jones’s ability to see the quirky and absurd in the everyday.” [Information board at the exhibition]

Impressions of north

Impressions of the north

I liked reading his notebooks and inspecting other memorabilia on display.

R-J's notes

Ray-Jones’s notes

Books to read

Books to Read

Road to Wigan Pier

His well-thumbed The Road to Wigan Pier

Martin Parr’s selection were based on his collection The Non-Conformists taken in Hebden Bridge and the surrounding area in 1975 when he and his wife moved to live in the town. He focussed on the chapels and their declining congregations and the changing way of life. Being in black-and-white, like Ray-Jones’s, this gives his pictures an old-fashioned, dated, sad, shabby and gloomy feel. It’s grim up north, you know.

I’ve just chosen two photographs – one from Parr and one from Ray-Jones – that both made me smile.


Love this Ray-Jones Tea Scene taken at Weymouth in 1967

Last Cuppa

 And I call this one The Last Cuppa (Parr)

A fellow WordPress blogger took much better notes and has written more extensively about the exhibition here.

Two Henrys : The Fourth Part Two and Moore

From Renishaw Hall on the eighteenth of June we made our way to Stratford upon Avon where we checked in at our hotel in time to wash and brush up before heading on foot (only a few minutes distant) to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre by the River Avon. It was a lovely warm evening and there were lots of people about enjoying relaxing by the River and the Canal.


We were booked for supper at The Rooftop Restaurant followed by a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part Two by the Royal Shakespeare Company. This was no dull, boring history play rather it seemed to me dominated by comedy. Anthony Sher played Falstaff and the whole performance was being filmed and relayed simultaneously to a greater audience in cinemas throughout the country. This meant that the director, Greg Doran, came on stage at the beginning to introduce the play.

Swans of Avon

The Swans of Avon and Clopton Bridge from The Rooftop Restaurant

HT Church

River Avon and Spire of Holy Trinity church from The Rooftop Restaurant

Shakespeare Hotel

The Shakespeare Hotel – one time I stayed here

Grammar School

The Grammar School, Stratford upon Avon


The Birthplace

The next morning after a leisurely breakfast and opportunity to take a walk in Stratford we headed off to nearby Compton Verney where we had a full programme of tours, a sandwich lunch and time also to walk in the park, visit the chapel and spend time (and money) in the attractive gift shop.

Approaching CV

CV and 3 piece

CV House

“10.30am Depart for Compton Verney. Set in a park designed by the ubiquitous ‘Capability’ Brown, this long-derelict house of the Willoughby de Broke family is now resurgent under the inspiration of the [Peter] Moore’s Foundation. The collections are numerous and varied. The morning will be given over to the current display of sculptures by Henry Moore and Auguste Rodin, while the afternoon will feature a guided tour of salient points of the main collection which encompasses British Portraits, Chinese Ceramics and Bronzes, British Folk Art and for Textile-buffs The Marx-Lambert Collection. You will be free to visit those parts of the collection which are your particular interest.” [Our Programme]

Moore Rodin

Moore – Rodin

Calais Burghers

Rodin’s Burghers of Calais

Moore Rodin
15 February 2014 to 31 August 2014
10th Anniversary Year – Moore Rodin at Compton Verney

This ground-breaking international exhibition compares the work of two giants of modern sculpture: Henry Moore and Auguste Rodin. This is the first exhibition to be devoted exclusively to these artists, with major works being displayed in our ‘Capability’ Brown landscape as well as in our exhibition spaces.

Fallen Caryatid

Fallen Caryatid by Rodin

Bunched figure

Reclining Figure : Bunched by Henry Moore

In the grounds
Enjoy eleven large scale works which complement, challenge and create new perspectives to vistas ‘Capability’ Brown formed in the 1760s. Amongst these amazing pieces is one of Rodin’s most famous works, Monument to the Burghers of Calais (usually on display outside the Houses of Parliament), Moore’s magnificent monumental Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae and The Arch.

Walking man on column

Rodin’s Walking Man on Column

Upright Motive No. 9

Henry Moore Upright Motive No. 9 with Chapel

Inside the galleries

Gain an amazing insight into the works of these two artists. Explore the parallels between their treatment of the figure through a beautiful collection of drawings and models made for larger works. See a special display curated by Moore’s daughter Mary which reveals both artists as keen collectors of antiquities and found objects which profoundly influenced their work. The final treat is a display of rarely seen archival documents and photographs taken by Henry Moore revealing that … ‘as time has gone on, my admiration for Rodin has grown and grown’.

After our sandwich lunch I wandered round the grounds and visited the Capability Brown Chapel.  This was built in 1776 as part of the relandscaping of the site and is one of the few surviving Georgian chapels in Britain, and one of the very few remaining architectural works by ‘Capability’ Brown. It is currently undergoing a restoration project and more funds are needed to support this work as it’s hoped to use the building in future for music and learning.

CB's chapel

The Chapel Interior

And in the afternoon we had a tour of the permanent collection – British Portraits

Beautiful display

Beautiful Displays

and British Folk Art. Currently there is an exhibition of British Folk Art at Tate Britain and this will then come to Compton Verney  from 27 September 2014 to 14 December 2014.

British Folk Art

British Folk Art

Weather vane

Weather Vane



And finally, the Marx-Lambert Collection.

Marx Lambert collection

Enid Marx (1902-1998) was one of the brightest design stars to emerge from the Design School of London’s Royal College of Art (RCA) during the interwar years. She was an author and illustrator of children’s books, a book designer, a printmaker, a textile designer and a painter.
The Marx-Lambert collection at Compton Verney features both work produced by Marx and a large number of pieces of folk or popular art which were collected by Marx and her friend Margaret Lambert (1906-95). These then inspired Marx’s own work -sometimes directly, as seen in the pair of ceramic wall-mounted cornucopia cases which inspired her ‘Cornucopia’ textile design.”

Canal art and wallpaper

Canal Art and Wallpaper

A wonderful trip full of interest and variety marred only by a 3 hour delay on the M1 due to a lorry on fire.





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.


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