Sikar II by Gillian Ayres

 

Ayres, Gillian, b.1930; Sikar II
Courtesy of Gillian Ayres

Gillian Ayres, Sikar II, acrylic on paper, 1993, Worcester City Collection

 

Volunteer researcher, Deborah Keaveney, has been exploring the fine art collection at Worcester City Museum and Art Gallery. She has been researching Sikar II by Gillian Ayres which was acquired through the support of an Arts Council England/V&A purchase grant.

 

Gillian Ayres (born 1930) is an important British abstract painter, who trained at Camberwell School of Art in London (1946-50), before going on to teach painting in Bath and London and becoming Head of Painting at Winchester School of Art. She has lived and worked as an artist in London, Wales and Cornwall, which has included mural painting and printmaking, as well as painting on paper and canvas in a variety of media.

In 1991 she was awarded the Gold Medal for the British Council Triennale exhibition which began its world tour in New Dehli, India.  It is possible that the artist also visited the ancient Mughal city of Sikar to the South West of Dehli at this time, which she then used for the title of a series of abstract paintings in acrylic on paper.  Sikar II, which is now in the collection of Worcester Museum and Art Gallery, was painted in 1993, by which time the artist had also been elected an R.A. by the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

The painting is a medley of vivid colours and abstract patterning that echoes the strongly illuminated colours, both natural and man-made that can be seen on a hot summer night in the North Indian city of Sikar. Originally this was ruled by the Rajas of the Muslim Mughal empire, founded by the warrior leader Genghis Kahn in the early 16th century.  Sikar soon became a fortified military centre with high surrounding walls and seven city gates. It is now famous for its Mughal architecture, art and culture that draws and welcomes visitors from around the world.

Against this historical background the painting by Gillian Ayres, Sikar II takes on a new significance in its strident shapes and colours which are surrounded by a midnight blue border that suggest the structural patterns of narrow streets and old Mughal Haveli houses around which are woven the bright and riotous life that goes on within its walls, with a striking central motif of a scimitar or curved sword in shades of blue from blue-white at the curved edge to a deep, regal purple at the rectangular cross of the hilt and finial ball handle above it. The vivid mix of colours and patterns in this work seem to carry a spirit of place and suggest the intensity of life lived in this bustling city, with its history of succeeding layers of power, buildings, people, plants and animals, all within the confines of an ancient and fortified city. Translated into abstract painting, it is a city full of glancing impressions and captivating expressions that are visualised through the artist’s forceful and compelling use of form and colour.  But from this apparently disconnected network emerges a narrative of abstract signs and shapes that suggest the architecture and sense of a distant place that is both thrilling in its strangeness and familiar in its variety.

The work of Gillian Ayres is represented in London by the Alan Cristea Gallery

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WW1 Nurses Uniforms

web-vad-uniform-c-museums-worcestershireDuring World War One, 38,000 women volunteered for the Voluntary Aid Detachment units both at home and overseas, assisting medical staff with the treatment and care of sick and injured soldiers. Many of these women had never worked before and as VADs they worked long shifts that often involved dirty and hard manual labour.

Most VAD nurses had no relevant experience when they first began, but gradually added to their knowledge and skills and were duly awarded badges or stripes indicating their proficiency in sanitation, first aid, bandaging and dressings.

VAD nurses were required to either hand sew or pay for their own uniforms to be made.
Despite the often messy nature of their work, the VAD uniform was expected to look pristine and had to be worn according to strict regulations, both inside and outside of the hospital. Nurses often got in trouble for accessorizing with earrings and purses.

The VAD uniform pictured was transferred by the British Red Cross from the Balfour Museum of Red Cross History in Hampshire and is now part of the Worcestershire County Museum Collection. It can be seen in A Happy Convalescence: Hartlebury Castle’s History as a WWI Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital at Worcestershire County Museum at Hartlebury until autumn 2018.

A Happy Convalescence is part of the Worcestershire World War One Hundred project. Funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Worcestershire World War One Hundred is one of the largest programme of events across England commemorating the First World War, involving cultural and heritage organisations County-wide through until 2018.

 

Trying the Sword by George Cattermole

a watercolour by Cattermole picturing a medieval scene of armourWorcester City Art Gallery and Museum acquired three paintings by George Cattermole in 1915 as part of the Sale Bequest of Victorian Watercolours.

Cattermole initially trained as an architectural draftsman and accurate interiors are often a feature of his work. These scenes usually include romantic and dramatic subjects such as medieval knights.

His scenes of Armourers, including Trying the Sword are among his best and the Victoria & Albert Museum have a very similar version of this work in their collection. These were made as illustrations for The Armourer’s Tale in a book of short stories called Evenings at Haddon Hall. Cattermole also illustrated the Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge by his friend, Charles Dickens.

Cattermole was a member of the Old Watercolour Society, where it is likely he met David Cox and the two artists were great admirers of each other’s work.

A Decadent Still Life – Still Life Group, 1972 by Albert Hodder

web-albert-hodder-still-life-c-museums-worcestershireStill life paintings take everyday objects as their focus such as fruit and vegetables, flowers, objects and sometimes dead animals or fish. The choice of objects and how they are shown give clues to the meaning of the artwork.
The tradition of still life painting as we know it has its roots in the Northern Renaissance. Painted in 1872 by British artist, Albert Hodder (1845-1911), this still life group from Worcester City’s collection draws on the history of genre painting and Neo-Classical Italian art with classical columns visible in the background. These fluted pillars and the grapes and vines almost certainly places this scene in Italy, a country known for fine wines and delicious food.
Whereas in some still life paintings, the image of rotting fruit or skulls serve to remind the viewer of the passing of time and the impermanence of material objects, others celebrate life’s pleasures such as wine, exotic food and flowers. Although this painting shows a dead bird, it is not a message of mortality but an image of fecundity: a bounty of vegetables, exotic fruit and game for the table.

Jefferys family portraits by John Russell

A few years ago, Worcester City Museum and Arts Council were bequeathed four portraits of the Jefferys (also spelled Jefferies) family from Kidderminster. Three of which are by the renowned pastelist John Russell RA (1745 – 1806).

John Russell, Portrait of Matthew Jefferys, 1775
John Russell, Portrait of Matthew Jefferys, 1775

Inspired by the work of his master Francis Cotes and Rosalba Carriera, whose work he collected, John Russell worked mostly in oil pastel and would smudge the outlines then add finishing details in black. In 1772, Russell wrote Elements of Painting with Crayons which is available on Google books here. In 1788 he was Elected Royal Academician and went on to be appointed Crayon (pastel) Painter to King George III in 1790. Russell charged 30 guineas for a head portrait such as this and up to £150 for full-length group paintings – prices comparable to Joshua Reynolds PRA. Works by Russell are now held in prestigious galleries across the UK including The Fitzwilliam Museum, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Victoria & Albert Museum, among others.

Although best known for pastel portraits, Russell was also an amateur astronomer and mathematician and used a powerful refractor along with his artistic skills to map the moon – Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery hold a wonderful example in their collection.

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Att. John Russell, Portrait of John Jefferys

The earliest portrait from the collection is a pastel on paper of John Jefferies (1714 – 1785) and is attributed to John Russell (Right). John Jefferys was an affluent corn miller and leased the Kidderminster town mill. With his growing wealth, he bought Franche Hall in 1796.

Along with his son and heir, Matthew, John was among the members of the non-conformist congregation in Kidderminster who broke away become leaders of New Meeting.

The most lavish portrait from the Jefferies family collection is of Matthew Jefferies (1740 – 1814), the eldest son of John Jefferies and was created in 1775 (top). Matthew followed his father’s footsteps and took over the town mill and, building on the family fortune, became one of Kidderminster’s wealthiest residents. He purchased a number of local manor houses and built Blakebrook House in Kidderminster sometime before 1795. In 1769 a Mr Matthew Jefferies of Kidderminster was listed among local dignitaries as a ‘subscriber’ in a book of poetry by the blind writer Pricilla Pointon, which offers some insight into a possible philanthropic nature and an interest in the arts.

John Russell, Portrait of Thomas Jefferys, 1805
John Russell, Portrait of Thomas Jefferys, 1805

The most recent artwork in the collection by Russell is an 1805 oil on canvas portrait of Matthew’s younger brother, Thomas Jefferies (1742 – 1820) (Right). Thomas was a goldsmith and worked from Cockspur Street in London.

Russell is known to have travelled Worcester in 1780 and Kidderminster in 1788, then returned to Worcester and Kidderminster in 1781. But the dates we have (1775 and 1895) do not correlate with these and suggest that the sitters may have travelled to London to have their portrait taken. Thomas Jefferys (1717 – 1785), one of John’s three brothers was a cartographer and map maker to King George III, perhaps Thomas Jefferies met John Russell due to their overlapping cartographic interests and was introduced to Thomas’ brother John’s family? Or as John Russell was also a devout Methodist, perhaps his own and the Jefferys family’s non-conformist beliefs brought them together?

These portraits are not only a beautiful collection of works by a significant artist but also offer a fascinating insight into the financial, social and cultural gentrification of this Kidderminster trade family.

 

Artworks Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance tax and allocated to Worcester City Council for display at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum, 2010

Going to Market by David Cox (1783-1859)

web-david-cox-going-to-market-c-museums-worcestershireDavid Cox was born in Birmingham in 1783 and during his life he moved to London, then Hereford and back to London before moving back to Birmingham in 1841. As well as moving across the country he also frequently took trips to paint in wales or across Europe throughout. It is therefore unsurprising that people taking long, often arduous journeys were a frequent subject in his evocative landscapes.
His travellers and journeymen are often shown crossing vast landscapes and facing tough weather conditions, highlighting how small and vulnerable people are in contrast to the great powers of nature.
In the early nineteenth-century, watercolour painters were expected to exercise tight control in their artworks and follow of precise techniques. Like his contemporary of J W M Turner, the rough, loose finish of this painting and other works by Cox marked him out as an unconventional and even controversial artist.
This painting was done on rough wrapping paper rather than traditional watercolour paper, which would have made it harder to capture precise detail, but helped Cox to explore the textural qualities of a dramatic, stormy day.
Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum is lucky to have a large collection of watercolour paintings by one of the nineteenth century’s greatest landscape painters David Cox, thanks to the Sale Bequest that came to the museum in 1915.

Wintertime, Malvern by Harry Adams

web-winter-at-malvern-c-museums-worcestershireWhen I was first getting to know the Museums Worcestershire art collection, there were many names I knew, as well as many artists I’d yet to discover. One of these was Harry Williams Adams. Adams was born in Worcester in 1868 and worked as a decorative artist in the Royal Worcester Porcelain Factory for eight years, studying at the Worcester School of Art in the evening, before leaving to study in Paris and travel in Switzerland. After returning to the UK, Adams worked from a studio in Pierpoint Street. Perhaps drawing on his experiences whilst traveling in Switzerland, he became a master of depicting vast wintery landscapes.

Because of its size, Wintertime, Malvern is difficult to move for display so it is cared for in the art store and this is where I first discovered it. I was immediately impressed by this accomplished and evocative painting of British Camp, a place that for me holds fond memories of chilly childhood walks during the Christmas holidays. Although he is perhaps not the best know artist from Worcester, I think that Adams’ ability to capture the character of this iconic local landscape makes this one of the greatest artworks in the collection.

Sheila Scott by Ernest Waldron West

University of Worcester work experience student Charlotte Freshman has been researching Worcester pilot Sheila Scott for her dissertation

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Sheila Scott (1922–1988), Ernest Waldron West, 1971, oil on canvas, Worcester City Museum Collection

Sheila Scott was the first British pilot to fly solo around the world in a light aircraft. In fact, she made that flight three times in the whole of her piloting career. She broke over 100 light aircraft records. She was also the first pilot to fly directly over the North Pole in a light aircraft. All of this, from a woman who took five attempts to obtain her private pilot’s license.

Scott, who was born in Worcester in 1922, had tried different career paths until she found a passion in flying at the age of 36. It was not just her private pilot’s license that she managed to acquire, but a commercial license, a night license and she also learned how to fly helicopters and hot air balloons. She made her first flight around the world in 1966. With a cheering crowd full of fans and the press, she departed from London to break her first around the world record. During the flight ,she came up against radio problems and a cut antenna among other problems. This would have startled many pilots, but not Scott. She carried on, more determined than ever. After 189 flying hours over 34 days, covering 34,00 miles, she had finally done it. She was the first solo British pilot to fly around the world in a light aircraft.

Sheila Scott went on to fly around the world solo two more times, as well as breaking many aviation records. She constantly struggled with money issues and had to sell a number of her trophies as well as her beloved plane, Myth. During one of her races, her flat in London was burgled. Amongst other things, the video camera she planned to use to record her third and final flight around the world was stolen. She never recovered from the loss of money the burglary brought her, and when she diagnosed with cancer, she had to sell even more trophies in order to be able to pay for her treatment.

She was the founder and first governor of the British Branch of Ninety Nines – association for licensed women pilots first founded by Amelia Earhart. She received the Royal Aero Club’s Gold Medal in 1972, and was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1968. She also received the Brabazon of Tara Award in 1965, 1967 and 1968. She lost her battle against cancer in 1988, at the age of 66.

Worcester Tunnel Junction by William Roy Putt

web Worcester Tunnel Junction (c) Museums WorcestershireIn the 1860s Worcester Tunnel Junction sat at the north of a triangle of Shrub Hill Junction in the east and Rainbow Hill Junction in the west that together connected the three lines that served the city. In 1973 Shrub Hill Junction and Rainbow Hill junction were removed and Worcester Tunnel Junction became the main junction connecting Worcester to rest of the country.

This painting by William Roy Putt shows the view of Worcester Tunnel Junction from Tunnel Hill and highlights the complex geometry of train lines and signals that make this system work. With plans underway for a new Worcester Parkway Station that will change the face of Worcester’s railway lines, this painting becomes an interesting document of the city’s urban landscape.