Art is the expression of the essence of life

Ronald O. Dunlop’s work has a very tactile quality using thick and rapid strokes of paint. Dunlop’s approach to painting was that it was an emotional and intimate process. He said that he tried to express his personality through his painterly style.

Dunlop was born in Dublin in 1894, into a family of artists and writers; he grew up surrounded by many seminal figures of early twentieth-century Irish literature. After the First World War, Dunlop worked in advertising in London whilst studying art. He founded the Emotionist Group in 1923 – a community of actors, writers, painters and philosophers, interested in expressing and manipulating the emotions of their art and their audience.

Many famous names considered themselves Emotionists, from playwright George Bernard Shaw to author Aldous Huxley to actress Peggy Ashcroft. In 1928 the group published a journal called Emotionism: Dunlop supplied the manifesto Art is the expression of the essence of life. This painting, Tugboats on the Thames, from Worcester City’s collection, dates to around this time.

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The Romantic story of a Cabinet

The Victorians, loving a good story, believed this beautiful ebony and red tortoiseshell cabinet belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots. Now in the Royal Collection, it was thought that she brought it with her from France to Scotland. It was pictured in a portfolio of drawings by William Gibb, made in 1890 for an illustrated publication called The Royal House of Stuart, a copy of which is in Worcester City’s museum collection.

Mary, Queen of Scots’ life continues to fascinate, the subject of many books, film, music and TV series. With as much drama, love, intrigue and tragedy as any soap opera, her story formed an important background to the House of Stuart’s time on the English throne – the royal family whose privilege, entitlement and poor judgement led to the English Civil War.

Mary was the only surviving legitimate child of James V of Scotland on his death – she was only six days old. Her son would become James VI of Scotland, and then James I of England, succeeding Elizabeth I and uniting the thrones of England, Ireland and Scotland. His son, Charles I, was unable to retain agreement with his Parliament, bringing unrest and conflict to all three countries.

Crowned Queen of Scotland at just a few months old, Mary’s early years were a power struggle between Henry VIII of England and Henry II of France, both eager to unite their countries with Scotland through her marriage to their son. France managing the successful treaty, Mary’s youth was spent happily at the French court. Tragedy struck after her young husband died less than two years into their teenage marriage. 18-year-old Mary returned to Scotland and joined the many ambitious characters jostling to control the English throne. Her position was a threat to Elizabeth I and the next twenty-five years were fraught with manipulation, plotting and betrayal. Throughout, Mary maintained the luxury of royalty, surrounding herself with fine tapestries, bedlinen and silverware even while imprisoned. It’s unsurprising that she should be linked with this exquisite cabinet, with such beautiful heart-shaped decoration.

The Royal Collection’s research shows that the cabinet actually dates to the seventeenth century, and therefore was too late to belong to Mary, Queen of Scots herself. It can now be found in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official royal residence in Edinburgh.

Cows in a Field by Julian Trevelyan, 1935

Julian Trevelyan went to Cambridge University to study English Literature,  but at 21 headed for Paris where, in the early 1930s he learned printmaking skills in a studio alongside Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. Unsurprisingly, his early work was influenced by these great trailblazing artists.

During the Second World War, he served with the Royal Engineers as a camouflage officer in the North African desert. Initially, the British Army in Africa had only green European camouflage, which was not very effective. Trevelyan was part of the team that redesigned that standard camouflage to be suitable for the desert, and successfully hid operations from the German troops. This gouache painting in Worcester City’s collection, made a few years before the war, shows that Trevelyan was a good recruit for this role – his eye clearly saw the landscape as a selection of patterns.

From 1956 Trevelyan was Head of Printmaking at the Royal College of Art in London, where he taught many great British artists including David Hockney and R.B Kitaj.

The Hop Calendar

Beer was introduced into Britain from continental Europe during the fifteenth century and hops are an essential ingredient. Prior to that, an ale was brewed which did not require hops.

The hop is a herbaceous hardy perennial plant which dies back to its rootbass every year but will live for twenty years or more. Its shoots climb aided by tiny hairs on the stem and leaves. The hop always twines clockwise.

The hop growing year starts immediately after picking. In October the plant is cut close to the ground and drainage furrows are dug. The hop yard is then allowed to stand for the winter, and any repairs needed to the poles or overhead wires can be made at this time. From February, the plant starts to shoot again. ‘Stringing’ begins in March which adds a pair of strings for each plant to climb from the soil to the frame wires. Traditionally these were added either by a man on stilts or by using a hooked ‘monkey pole’. ‘Tying’ takes place in April or May, each hop plant having thrown out 10-20 ‘hop wires’. All but six are weeded out and the remaining shoots are wound up the supporting strings – three per string. Throughout the summer the plants are traditionally fed with farmyard manure and pests control needs to be vigilant. Hop picking takes place in September.

Picking provided seasonal work in Worcestershire for a large number of families as this photograph from Worcester City’s collection shows. The hops were picked off the plant into a crib and from there measured by the bushel [equivalent to 8 gallons, or 36 litres – about the size of a carry-on suitcase] into sacks. The number of bushels collected was recorded and converted into the payment for the picker.

 

This article was compiled from a museum panel written in the 1970s. Old interpretation, when useful, is retained within the museum archives for future reference and research. At this point, hop yards were still a familiar sight locally, with several to be seen around Worcester’s city boundaries.

A Hidden Treasure Rescued

The Cockle Gatherers, by Arthur Hacker was for many years a hidden treasure in the Worcester City Museum Collection, its poor condition having meant it had not been on display for many years.

The son of a sporting-prints engraver, Hacker graduated from the Royal Academy Schools in 1880 and went on to study in Paris. One of his fellow pupils was Stanhope Forbes, whose greatest work Chadding on Mounts Bay is a firm favourite in Worcester’s collection. Like Forbes, Hacker developed a style that maintained the great large-scale traditions of Victorian high art with the expressionism of painting en plein air.

Hacker’s painting of French peasant life Her Daughter’s Legacy was the Royal Academy Exhibition’s greatest talking point in 1881. He was elected an Academician in 1910, by which time he was concentrating on a lucrative portrait painting practice with many well-known sitters. The Cockle Gatherers probably dates from about the turn of the twentieth century.

The painting’s varnish had changed considerably from Hacker’s application, turning very yellow through age and from being hung in rooms where smoking was allowed. Hacker’s painting definition was no longer able to be seen. A test section in the top right corner was cleaned and showed what a dramatic difference could be made. With the help of funding from Worcester City Art Gallery & Museums’ members, the whole painting was cleaned in 2018 and the canvas tear bottom right (previously held together with tissue) was repaired. A painting none of us had previously seen was revealed!

Before conservation in 2018

Hawthorn Blossoms by Edward Wilkins Waite (1854–1924)

Edward Wilkins Waite was the son of a Surrey nonconformist minister and the grandson of William Watkin Waite, a professional miniaturist. Three of Edward’s brothers went on to became artists and two became musicians.

In 1874 Edward travelled to Canada and worked for a while as a lumberjack. On his return, inspired by his time in the great outdoors, he threw himself into his painting, shortly afterwards exhibiting four paintings at the Royal Academy. Most of his output, like this painting in Worcester City’s collection, depicts his local countryside, the Surrey Weald.

This painting was bought directly from the artist in 1899. This was a golden period of contemporary art collecting for the Worcester collection, as the Corporation of Worcester sought to build up a collection for its brand new Art Gallery on Foregate Street.

Stokesay Castle by Leonard Pike, 1940s

This beautiful oil painting of ‘Stokesay Castle’ is by landscape artist Leonard Pike, and was purchased by Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum in 1943 – it is one of seven works by the artist in the City’s museum collection.

Pike was made the first chairman of The Worcester Society of Artists from its formation in 1947 until 1951. He was an active aide and advisor to the Worcester Art Gallery for many years – photographs of the artist selecting and hanging paintings for exhibitions often appeared in local newspapers.

Pike held a solo exhibition at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum in 1946, at which 60 of his works in watercolour, oil and pastel were exhibited for sale. A programme from the exhibition states; “Some pictures may appeal, others may not, but you may be assured of the complete sincerity of the artist and of his devotion to his art”.

Pike’s paintings express a nostalgic rural idyll and often feature significant historical structures, such as castles and mills – the museum also cares for the artist’s painting of Chepstow Castle. The artist captured many rustic scenes of the Worcestershire countryside, including a pastoral landscape of Worcester city (also in the museum collection) and scenes from Bredon Hill. He exhibited his work in many famous exhibitions, including the Royal Academy. Pike died in 1959.

Kate Banner
Curatorial Assistant

Costume drama

This beautiful dress dates to the 1920s. The shape and style of it is indicative of the decade that became known as the Roaring Twenties. It was donated to Worcestershire County Museum in the 1970s by a family from Droitwich and has remained in store until very recently.

Thanks to the huge efforts of women on the home front during the First World War, women gained considerable freedoms in work, in politics and also in fashion. The restrictive crinoline and bustle, tailored seams and intricate boning of female costume that prevailed before the Great War disappeared forever. A typical 1920s dress had minimal shaping, no tailoring and hems at knee level: fashions for women were unlike anything that had gone before. It was a revolution in dress and paved the way for the modern age.

Claire Cheshire

19th century upcycling

When this pair of rather elegant crimson silk damask shoes was donated to the Worcestershire County Museum back in 1965 by a Worcester resident, they were recorded in the museum catalogue as dating to 1740. Twenty years later, an expert studied them and noted that whilst the sole was indeed of that date, they had been reconstructed or recovered at some point in the 19th century using very different shoemaking techniques than the original craftsman would have employed.

This recycling of and renewing of clothing and accessories is not unusual at a time when clothing was not mass produced and so very expensive. The County Museum’s expansive costume collection has many examples of such economical activities. Hemlines were shortened, edgings added and removed, repairs repaired again and again.

On occasion items were completely repurposed. For example, there is a motorcycle suit in Worcester City’s collection that was made from a Gentleman’s Burberry Great Coat and altered to form a lady’s skort (shorts with a skirt over the top) and tunic. The alteration was made by an amateur and is poorly sewn by hand in places but would undoubtedly have offered a freedom of movement to ride a motorcycle that a skirt and corset would not.

Claire Cheshire