Sunday, 17 July 2016

Winifred Knights

Copyright the Estate of Winifred Knights 
If you've ever wondered about the artist of the compelling painting The Deluge [of which the above is a compositional study]  then the exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery is the place to go - before 18 September.  As well as the actual Deluge, it contains several more large-scale works - not many, as Knights's production was not prolific, perhaps because so carefully considered and prepared, but a very rewarding number that absorb one's attention.

UCL Art Museum London
They include this image, described as  Village Scene with Millhands, as if it belonged with Lowry. as indicted by the associated studies and captions, the setting is based on buildings at or near on the Herts'-Essex border, where, all along the rivers Lea and Stort there were grain mills and breweries supplying London's beer; and while some of the figures do represent villagers, most were drawn from Knights' acquaintance, with herself just behind the woman with the red jacket.  For Knights shared with Stanley Spencer - also trained at the Slade - the device of including contemporary yet timeless figures and groups without socio-historical realism.   Place and people are incidental to picture-making, even though landscape, buildings and figures are firmly positioned and delineated.
Copyright Estate of Winifred Knights

Homage to Piero della Francesca infuses the painting of La Santissima Trinita,  According to the exhibition, this has a narrative behind it, which is however irrelevant to the strange and wondrous image of Italian women resting beside a lake of sorts, with the dry hills of central Italy in the distance.  In this image, the colours are not wholly true, but one can glimpse the glow that marks the reclining figures in a dream-like landscape.  It's a miraculous piece, even more commanding than The Deluge through its stasis.

So a relatively small and extremely satisfying display.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Triangular Northants

Two very different but both eccentric and  detour-worthy buildings in Northamptonshire - which seems on the face it  a most normal central, English, unremarkable  county.  One is in Northampton itself, in an unremarkable early 19th century urban terrace of tall narrow houses.  78 Derngate has in fact a tardis-like interior, once decorated by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in most outlandish designs for the time - 1916-17 - and now restored or rather recreated *  to match the  original.
Hard to say what the most startling  -  the black-painted hall room opening from the street, stencilled with a forest of triangles and geometric trees
or the guest bedroom  with walls and beds covered in striped fabric whose design anticipates Bridget Riley's moving patterns.
Bernard Shaw, when a guest, promised his hostess that he slept with his eyes shut so would not be unnerved by the eccentric d├ęcor.
In conservation terms, the whole project is perhaps excusable.  Only a  few original features survive, including a large bath and a silvered window-pane for Sir to shave by, plus some built-in furniture and fragments of CRM's decoration.  For most of the past century the building was put to uses unconnected with Mackintosh's patrons the Bassett-Lowkes, so there was little to preserve in decorative terms, although the full-on quality of the reconstruction is rather like an architectural themepark.  and one exits into the everyday street feeling a bit weird.
* more here on the recreation

Next stop an even more remarkably unrestored building now over four centuries old, the Triangular Lodge near Rushton, built in 1593-5 by Sir Thomas Tresham.  Literally so, for Tresham designed as  well as paid for the construction, as an embodied device signifying  the 3 that both began his name (tres) and symbolized the Trinity (Donne's 'three-personed God') in the Christian tradition.
Tresham was certainly eccentric, converting to Catholicism in 1580 when to do so involved fines, imprisonment and loss of civil liberties.   The Lodge however was not created as a clandestine chapel, although its symbolism was no doubt camouflaged by its being built on a large rabbit warren, ostensibly as the warrener's bothy.
It is literally covered in triangles and trefoils and trios

plus wonderfully-carved symbols - this I believe is the hand of God coming from the Sun to bless the Earth.

There are pyramids and crockets and finials and inscriptions too from the Vulgate and Mass.  
While perhaps not as freakish in its own time as it appears today, it must have been  always unique.  And well-built, amazingly preserved - conserved one assumes since it came into the care of the Ministry of  Works - aka English Heritage / Historic England etc etc - with no need of re-making.
  In many ways the most  bizarre feature is its triangular structure, with three faces - such an unfamiliar aspect that in an unsettling experience one walks round almost seeking the fourth side only to return to where one started without finding it.