IN JANUARY 1950, the famous writer, painter, and politician, Winston Spencer Churchill (‘WC’) paid a short visit to the island of Madeira with his wife and his eldest daughter. They were accompanied by various British officials.
WC arrived on the island by sea, and stayed in the luxurious Reid’s Hotel in Funchal, which continues to flourish today. He left by seaplane a few days later to attend to affairs connected with an upcoming election in the UK.
While we were visiting the excellent photographic museum in central Funchal, we saw some photographs of Churchill, which were taken during his excursion to the picturesque fishing port of Camara de Lobos, which is a few miles west of Funchal. The photographs show WC painting a picture of the lovely bay surrounded by serried rows of houses. I have yet to see the picture, which I hope still exists.
We took a local bus to Camara de Lobos and disembarked close to a small bar named after WC. This is located close to a terrace overlooking the bay and its fishing boats. It was from here that he painted. A monument records this episode.
In 2019, a new hotel opened, the Churchill Bay. Outside its entrance, there is a sculpture depicting WC with cigar held between his lips. He is shown seated at an easel. Within the hotel’s lounge and bar, there is a fascinating collection of Churchilliana – photographs; letters signed by WC; a portrait by Felix Topolski; and contemporary artworks relating to WC.
Whether or not you are a fan of the Great WC, Camara de Lobos deserves a visit. Although there are plenty of tourists there, it manages to retain the feeling of a traditional fishing village.
TO CAPTURE A DETAILED IMAGE of a hawk attacking a bird in mid-air using photography would require a decent camera with a good lens and a high shutter speed. Yet, in about 1832 – long before cameras with high shutter speeds existed – the painter Edward Landseer (1802-1873) depicted a hawk attacking another bird high above the ground. He did not use photography. He created his picture on canvas with his paintbrushes and oil paints. His painting, “Hawking in the Olden Time”, hand in north London’s Kenwood House where I saw it today, the 11th of April 2023.
Clearly, Landseer’s image is a painting, but it contains as much detail as a reasonably good photograph. It must have taken him very much longer to execute than the fraction of a second that the event – the attack, which he captured on canvas, lasted in real life. Was his visual memory so good that he was able to hold a detailed memory of that instant in his head whilst he painted it? Although I doubt it, that possibility cannot be ruled out.
As I stood in front of the picture, pondering about it, another theory entered my head. During the nineteenth century, the art of taxidermy had reached a high degree of development. For example, the British ornithologist John Hancock (1808-1890) was an accomplished taxidermist. One of his works, “The Struggle with the Quarry”, which is in the Hancock Museum (in Newcastle upon Tyne) consists of one stuffed bird attacking another, and at first glance makes one think of Landseer’s painting. Although this was created after Landseer made his painting, the art of taxidermy had already begun to be perfected by taxidermists such as Louis Dufresne (1752-1832). So, when I was standing in front of the painting at Kenwood and thinking that Landseer might well have used a work of taxidermy as a model for his picture, I might not have been mistaken.
Kenwood House contains one of London’s best collections of old master paintings outside the city’s major public art galleries. Each time I visit it, I discover something that I had not noticed before. I am sure that I had seen the painting by Landseer, but it was not until today that I gave it more than a passing glance. Today, while walking around the house with some friends who had never been there before, we stopped in front of the painting of mid-air carnage and wondered how this image had been created before modern photography had been invented. Maybe, what I have written provides the answer.
UNBELIEVABLY, THE ARCHITECT Herbert Baker (1862-1946) demolished a major work of one of England’s greatest architects – Sir John Soane (1753-1837). Imagine the outcry if Sir Richard Rodgers decided to demolish Christopher Wren’s St Pauls Cathedral to replace it with one of his own design. Well, in the 1920s, Baker demolished most of Soane’s Bank of England to replace it with a larger building – the present Bank – which he designed.
There is a small museum in the Bank of England. Some of its rooms have been designed to recreate the kind of interiors that would have existed in Soane’s Bank building. In one of the rooms of the museum, a circular space beneath a glazed dome, there is a framed portrait of Sir Herbert Baker. Baker, who helped design New Delhi, is well known for his architectural work in South Africa. After being commissioned by the imperialist Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) to redesign Groote Schuur, his house on the slopes of Cape Town’s Table Mountain, he was asked to design many other structures in South Africa.
The portrait depicts Baker standing at a drawing table by a window through which a building in his typical neo-classical style can be seen. At the bottom left corner of the painting, there is a depiction of a framed painting of Cape Town’s Rhodes Memorial, which Baker designed in 1906. If you look carefully at this picture within a picture, an equestrian statue can be discerned. This statue, called “Physical Energy”, was sculpted by George Frederick Watts (1817-1904), who was briefly married to the actress Ellen Terry. The statue was cast in 1902, and placed at the Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town. In 1907, another bronze cast was made, and this stands on a stone plinth in Kensington Gardens almost midway on a line connecting the statue of young Queen Victoria in front of Kensington Palace with the Henry Moore sculpture on the east bank of The Long Water (part of the Serpentine).
When we saw the portrait of Baker, we were viewing an interesting exhibition that explores the Bank of England’s many and varied links with the slave trade. The caption relating to the portrait of Baker concentrated on the small image of the memorial to Rhodes. It correctly pointed out that Rhodes had been a Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, which became part of unified South Africa in 1910. It also mentions that Rhodes: “…held racist beliefs that Africans were inferior.” In 1912, the author GK Chesterton wrote of Rhodes that he:
“… had no principles whatever to give to the world. He had only a hasty but elaborate machinery for spreading the principles that he hadn’t got. What he called his ideals were the dregs of a Darwinism which had already grown not only stagnant, but poisonous … It was not his fault that he “figured out that God meant as much of the planet to be Anglo-Saxon as possible.” Many evolutionists much wiser had “figured out” things even more babyish. He was an honest and humble recipient of the plodding popular science of his time; he spread no ideas that any cockney clerk in Streatham could not have spread for him. But it was exactly because he had no ideas to spread that he invoked slaughter, violated justice, and ruined republics to spread them.”
Well, that is something for recipients of, and those applying for, Rhodes Scholarships to ponder over.
Getting back to the Bank that Baker designed, the museum is well worth visiting not only for its temporary exhibition about slavery but also for its permanent collection of exhibits, all of which have easily understood explanatory labelling.
GIOVANNI BATTISTA TIEPOLO (1696-1770) is one of my favourite artists. I have been familiar with his works ever since my childhood, when we visited Venice annually from the late 1950s or early 1960s onwards. My parents took me from church to church to see the great master’s paintings, which I prefer to the somewhat more photograph-like paintings of Canaletto.
We used to stay in a pensione on the Fondamente Zattere, a waterfront facing across a wide canal to the Giudecca island. The Gesuati church was a few yards from where we resided in Venice. It contains ceiling panels and a wall painting, all created by Tiepolo. Often, we passed the church and almost always entered it to gaze up at Tiepolo’s ceiling. I cannot remember it, but my sibling recalls that almost every morning, early, my father used to stand quietly and alone in the church for a few minutes.
I became so keen on Tiepolo that I broke my train journey between Ostend and Vienna to spend a night in Würzburg in order to see Tiepolo’s paintings in the city’s Residenz (a palace).
This September (2022), I was walking along a narrow passageway (Calle S Domenico) when I spotted a commemorative plaque above an archway leading into a long narrow courtyard surrounded by tall residential buildings. The plaque recorded that in the courtyard there was the house in which Tiepolo was born on March 1696. Exactly in part the courtyard, the Corte S Domenico, the artist was born, I could not determine. However, I had never seen this place before and was thrilled to have stumbled across the place where one of my favourite artists was born.
FOR UNKNOWN REASONS, we were initially reluctant to bother with viewing the exhibition (at London’s Tate Britain until the 18th of September 2022) of paintings and drawings by Walter Sickert (1862-1942). However, I am glad that we did because we got to know and appreciate an artist, of whom I had heard but knew little about. That little which I did know was that for a brief while Sickert had one of the Mall Studios in Hampstead, where years later the sculptor Barbara Hepworth worked and resided with one husband, and then another. Later, Sickert moved from Hampstead to Camden Town.
Sickert was born in Munich (Germany). He and his family moved to Britain when he was 8 years old. His father, Oswald Sickert (1828-1885), an artist, introduced him to the works of important British and French artists, but Walter’s inclinations led him to study acting. However, in 1882 he entered London’s Slade School of Art (at UCL) and he became a student and assistant of the artist James Abbott McNeil Whistler (1834-1903). Soon, he began spending a lot of time in France, where he met Edgar Degas (1834-1917), whose work was to have a great influence on his style.
The exhibition at Tate Britain successfully demonstrates that Sickert was a highly competent artist. His topographical paintings (notably of Dieppe and Venice) are superb, as are the many of his portraits, some of which verge on being impressionistic, on display. His depictions of scenes within theatre show his great ability to portray light and shade. A series of paintings of nude women, some of whom are shown being in the company of often disinterested-looking men in far from elegant clothing, throw light on the shady world of the poor in places such as Camden Town and its environs.
Although some of Sickert’s paintings show features that later would become associated with artists such as the impressionists, Lucien Freud, and Francis Bacon, he is not one of the first artists that springs to mind when thinking about the great artists of the late 19th and early 20th century. Why is this the case? Despite hinting at what was to become common in the works of the Abstractionists, he never broke through the barrier into Modernism as did painters such as Braque, Picasso, Miro, Kandinsky, Matisse, and Mondrian. In no way does this detract from the brilliance seen in Sickert’s work. In a way, he was born too late to be considered as distinguished as those I have mentioned. Considered alongside 19th century artists, he shines. But, although he received many commissions, he was painting during an era when the more adventurous and innovative artists were in their heyday. That said, I can strongly recommend the exhibition at the Tate, which demonstrated to me that Sickert, a master of light and shade, was an artist who deserves much more attention than he gets today.
NOT FAR FROM the busy A13 road that links London with Tilbury and places further east, and surrounded by a sea of unremarkable dwelling houses in the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, stands an unexpected historical Tudor architectural treasure: Eastbury Manor.
This beautiful Tudor mansion, built between 1560 and 1573 for Clement Sisley (or Sysley) and his family, stands on land that had been owned by Barking Abbey until its dissolution in 1539. He was a wealthy businessman connected with high-status families. Married thrice, each of his wives’ dowries added to his prosperity. The manor house remained connected with his extended family until it was sold in 1628. After that, the house and its associated extensive land had a series of owners and tenants until sometime in the 19th century when the building began to deteriorate. The various inhabitants made use of the place’s formerly large grounds for agricultural purposes: principally, grazing. The National Trust (‘NT’) bought the house in 1918, and this purchase is responsible for its survival. Owned by the NT, it was Barking’s local museum between 1935 and 1941. Now, still the property of the NT, it is maintained by the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.
“A little beyond the town, on the road to Dagenham, stood a great house, ancient, and now almost fallen down, where tradition says the Gunpowder Treason Plot was first contriv’d …”
I checked my copy of Defoe’s book and discovered that the editor of my edition (Pat Rogers) had doubts about this connection with Guy Fawkes et al. Rogers noted that the conspiracy was largely planned in Northamptonshire.
The house, which stands on land rich in clay, is built of bricks made locally, on-site. It is built to an H-shaped plan: two parallel wings are linked by a central portion perpendicular to near their northern ends. The central part and the two wings enclose a charmingly intimate courtyard, whose fourth (southern) side is bounded by a wall connecting the two wings. Although a modern staircase and lift have been added, the house’s original timber spiral staircases were housed in octagonal towers that encroach onto the northwest and northeast corners of the courtyard: they are classed as ‘external staircases’.
The house and its garden have many fascinating features typical of Tudor architecture. For example, in the Great Hall on the ground floor, there is a huge fireplace. It is large enough for several adults to stand within it. Our informative guide directed us to look up into the large chimney. There, we could see platforms that were built to allow workmen to climb into the chimney to clean it in the era long before there were chimneysweeps with special equipment. The Tudor brick wall surrounding one of the gardens has 17 small niches. These were designed as bee boles, in which skeps, baskets where bees lived, were placed. Interesting as these and many other things are, the most amazing feature is to be seen in the so-called Painted Chamber on the first floor, which we reached using the original timber staircase.
Discovered beneath layers of paint after a fire during the 19th century, are the sizeable fragments of two exceptional wall paintings. It is believed that these were commissioned by the London Alderman Sir John Moore who died in 1603. His coat of arms is depicted on one of the pictures. Moore, who took an interest in international trade and the then proposed East India Company, used the house as his country home.
The paintings depict trompe-l’oeil walls with columns, classical figures, and archways. The latter frame depictions of countryside and nautical scenes. Apart from their great age and skilful execution, these frescos are remarkable for their use of perspective. The lady who was showing us around the Manor mentioned that these wall paintings are some of the earliest surviving examples of pictures in England displaying the kind of perspective that is now commonly used in Western European art. So-called ‘true geometric perspective’ was developed by Italian painters during the 14th and 15th centuries. Its use spread to other parts of Europe and would have been known in England by the time of Moore’s occupancy of Eastbury Manor. The surviving wall paintings were executed before his death in 1603, but by whom we might never know. It is quite possible that the artist had either been abroad or had come from overseas. Whoever painted these lovely images had a good grasp of what was then regarded as the latest way of portraying the illusion of depth and distance. Whether there are earlier examples of surviving paintings created in England (using tru perspective) than those at Eastbury Manor, I do not know. So, until I am wiser on the subject, I will accept what we were told. I have seen older surviving wall paintings in English churches, but none of them display even the slightest hint of true geometric perspective.
All in all, it is well worth venturing into the rather dull suburbs of Dagenham and Barking to visit Eastbury Manor. It might not be as glorious as other surviving Tudor edifices, such as Hatfield House, but it is no less a wonderful reminder of an era long-since passed.
BETWEEN HAMPSTEAD AND Belsize Park, there is a narrow footpath running north from Tasker Road. One side of it is lined with a terrace of low buildings known as Mall Studios. Built in 1872 by Thomas Battersby, they were designed as artists’ studios. Each of them contained small waiting rooms; costume rooms; and a lobby. Each studio had three skylights and large north facing windows to capture the kind of light favoured by many artists. Following the advice of the artist Walter Sickert, who had lived there, the artist John Cecil Stephenson (1889-1965) settled into number 6, Mall Studios in March 1919. It was to remain his home until he died. In 1927, Barbara Hepworth became his neighbour in number 7, and at around that time, the influential art critic and writer Herbert Read moved into number 3. Nearby, Parkhill Road became home (for various lengths of time) to other artists including Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo, Piet Mondrian, Hans Erni, and other artists who have since become famous.
Whether it was the proximity of his artistic neighbours, who were pioneers of 20th century modernist art, or something else in his artistic evolution, Stephenson departed from his previous ‘straightforward’ portraiture and landscape painting and created works characteristic of what is now known as the ‘Modernist’ style. Although some of his works created after the late 1920s are to some extent figurative, most of his output was mainly abstract and constructivist. During WW1, Stephenson left London’s Slade School of Art temporarily to work in munition factories in Bishop Auckland (County Durham), the town where he was born. His experiences of working with industrial machinery and observing the efficiency and speed of the mechanised production processes is reflected in some of the paintings he produced later.
Stephenson, son of a grocer, was less well known than his neighbours. He produced art that bears favourable comparison to the works produced by them. Until the 18th of September 2022, there is a wonderful small exhibition of his works in a gallery within Hampstead’s charming Burgh House. The catalogue, edited by Sacha Llewellyn, Paul Liss, and George Richards, not only contains a fine collection of photographs of the exhibits but also provides a superb introduction – better than others I have seen – to the story of the pioneering role of Hampstead in the evolution of modern art in England. Burgh House, which contains several rooms comprising a museum of the history of Hampstead, also hosts excellent exhibitions such as the current survey of Stephenson’s works. Its well illuminated Peggy Jay Gallery provides a space for contemporary artists, many of them local, to display their works. Beneath the two storeys of cultural experiences, the basement of Burgh House is home to a pleasant café where anything from a cup of coffee to a wholesome meal can be obtained. And amongst the interesting range of books in the small bookshop, you can find copies of my book “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs” on sale (if they have run out, tell them to ask me for more, and then get your copy from Amazon).
WHEN THE BANKER Sir Francis Child (1642-1713) acquired Osterley Park in the 18th century, its Elizabethan manor house was in a poor state of repair. His grandsons, Francis and Robert, employed the famous architect, Robert Adam (1728-1792) to give the house a major ‘makeover’ including adding a grandiose neo-classical front portico. And that is what he did on a grand scale. Adam was no ordinary architect. Not only did he plan buildings (and modifications to them), but he also designed their interiors: everything from ceilings and wall decorations to furniture and doorhandles. Osterley Park offers a magnificent display of his wide-ranging skills.
The visitor to Osterley Park, now managed by the National Trust, usually gets to see a series of wonderful rooms on the ground floor of the house. All the rooms except one have beautifully decorated ceilings, all designed by Adam. Some of them have paintings created by Adam’s favourite painter, the Venetian Antonio Zucchi (1726-1795). Amongst my favourite ceilings are those in the Etruscan Dressing Room and the Drawing Room. The latter has a fantastic ceiling that was inspired by drawings in “The Ruins of Palmyra otherwise Tedmor in the Desert” by James Dawkin and Robert Wood (published in 1753).The ruins were those that were recently badly vandalised by the IS group. In each of the rooms, except the long gallery, the visitor’s attention is dominated by the eye-catching ceilings.
The ceiling of the long gallery is devoid of decoration. It was in this room that the Child family’s collection of fine paintings used to be displayed. The gallery’s ceiling was left plain, without decoration, deliberately, so that the viewer’s attention would be concentrated on the paintings. Sadly, the paintings are no more. After WW2, the house’s owner, George Francis Child-Villiers, 9th Earl of Jersey (1910 -1998) gave the house and its grounds to the National Trust. He moved to Jersey, taking with him most of the paintings that had hung at Osterley. Unfortunately, many of these works were destroyed in a warehouse fire soon after he donated the house. The artworks in the gallery have since been replaced with other paintings and because the ceiling is naked, you can give them your full attention.
MY GREAT GRANDFATHER Franz Ginsberg (1862-1936) was an industrialist and a politician in South Africa. One of his main industries was soapmaking. Many of his workers would have been black Africans, mostly living in poor conditions around his factory in King Williams Town (‘KWT’). While serving on the town council of KWT, he played an active role in establishing what he hoped would be a township with improved living conditions for some of the town’s black people (including his workers). Named after him, Ginsberg township, founded at the beginning of the 20th century, still exists.
A few years before my great grandfather established the township named after him, another soap maker, William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925) who was based in England, created what he hoped would be better living conditions for his workers. Far more grandiose and much more attractive than Ginsberg Township, Lever began building Port Sunlight (south of Birkenhead) in about 1887 (a year or two after Ginsberg began making soap). Lever’s model town provided his employees with salubrious dwellings in a well landscaped environment. However, they were subject to strict rules; Lever, who believed that discouraging immorality (e.g., gambling) led to a good workforce, was a benevolent paternalist.
Lever and his wife were avid collectors of artworks. These are housed in the purpose-built Lady Lever Art Gallery in the centre of Port Sunlight. This gallery, contained within an impressive French neo-classical style edifice, was designed by the Warrington based architects William Owen (1846-1910) and his son Seager Owen, and opened in 1922. It contains a fine range of artworks dating from early times (pre-Christian) to the early 20th century. It contains one of the largest and most important collections of Pre-Raphaelite artists’ works. With its spacious, airy galleries and well displayed exhibits, it is amongst my top ten British galleries and museums.
In one small gallery, which contains a sculpture of a reclining nude, two paintings hang close to each other but are separated by a neo-classical fireplace (an exhibit). One of them is by JMW Turner (1775-1851) and the other by his contemporary rival J Constable (1776-1837). It is interesting to see them almost side-by-side because it allows the viewer to compare their styles and what they try to convey in their paintings. The Turner painting depicts “The Falls of the Clyde”, and the Constable depicts “Cottage at Bergholt”. Neither of the paintings, both created in the age before photography, achieves the accuracy of, say, a photograph; both seem impressionistic, but the effects that the artists were attempting to have on the viewer are entirely different.
Turner’s paintings are often far more impressionistic than Constable’s. Although his subject matter is always at least almost discernible, I feel that Turner’s works are created to evoke both the artist’s and the viewer’s psychological and/or emotional reaction(s) to what was being depicted. In contrast, Constable’s painting techniques seem to have been designed to emphasise aspects of the scene he was painting to give the viewer the impression that he or she is looking at the very same view as that which attracted the artist. Constable regarded painting as being a branch of science. In a lecture he gave in 1836, he said:
“Painting is a science and should be pursued as an inquiry into the laws of nature. Why, may not landscape painting be considered a branch of natural philosophy, of which pictures are but the experiments?”
Turner, in his almost abstract paintings such as the one at the Lady Lever, appeared to be wanting to stimulate the viewer’s emotions. In contrast, Constable tried to convey what he saw or felt was important in his subject matter. Without resorting to the almost photographic accuracy of, for example, both Canaletto and Vermeer, the two artist whose paintings hang almost next to each other in the Lady Lever successfully achieve their aims. For me, the avoidance of detailed accuracy of representation in both Turner’s and Constable’s paintings, enhances the impression of reality in my mind, something that photography cannot do to the same extent.
Even if you do not wish to compare Turner and Constable, I can strongly recommend a visit to the soap maker’s gallery in Port Sunlight. Finally, it is a pity that my great grandfather did not invest in great works of art!
THE ESTORIC COLLECTION in London’s Highbury houses a fine permanent exhibition of modern Italian artworks, mainly creations of the so-called Futurists. In one of the galleries, I spotted the name of an artist who was born in a town, which I have visited, in the northeast of Italy: Gorizia. When the artist Anton Zoran Music (1909-2005) was born, Gorizia was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. After WW1, the town became part of the Kingdom of Italy within the region of Venezia-Giulia. Soon after WW2, the eastern part of the region became absorbed into the Yugoslav republic of Slovenia (now an independent state). When that happened, the border between Italy and Slovenia ran through the eastern part og the town, the part in what was then Yugoslavia (a country I visited often between 1973 and 1990) became named ‘Nova Gorica’. Most of Gorizia, an attractive old town, is on the Italian side of the border.
Slovenians still live on both sides of the border. Music, actually Anton Zoran Musič (pronounced mus-ich) was born into a Slovene-speaking family. Zoran, who went to schools in Maribor, studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb between 1930 and 1935. His first one-man exhibition (outside Yugoslavia) in Venice in 1943, where he had moved. Soon after this, he was arrested by the German Gestapo and then sent to Dachau concentration camp. After WW2, he moved to Ljubljana (in Yugoslavia), but soon shifted to Venice, where he lived (on and off) for the rest of his life. His career after the War was successful: he received several prestigious prizes for his artistic creations.
The Estorick displays five of Music’s paintings. They were created between 1951 and 1983 and illustrate his versatility as a painter. All the paintings hanging are between abstract and figurative in style, but slightly nearer the latter than the former. I had seen his paintings on previous visits to the Estorick, but until my most recent viewing of his art, I had not been aware of how many aspects of his life mesh with things that interest me.