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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The Crown of Scotland

The Stuart Kings greatly enjoyed all the ceremonies of the monarchy and they believed their entitlement to wear the crown and other honours of state were a privilege given direct from God. Needless to say, this became an important point of debate and disagreement during the English Civil War.

The English Crown – St Edward’s – had reputedly been used by every English monarch since William the Conqueror in 1066. After the execution of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell ordered the crown and associated regalia be broken up, with the jewels sold off and the precious metal used to make coins. The Crown of Scotland, however, was used to crown Charles II before the battles of Dunbar and Worcester and then survived the rest of the Interregnum (when England was a republic and had no monarch) by being secretly buried. When Charles II was restored as King in 1660, he ordered that St Edward’s Crown be recreated. The Crown of Scotland, thus now the oldest surviving British crown, still appears at special occasions in Scotland such as the opening of the new Parliament building. Its permanent home is Edinburgh Castle.

The Worcester City museum collection includes a set of drawings of the regalia of the Stuart family, of which this characterful picture is one. 

 

Thomas Woodward’s painting of the Battle of Worcester

Thomas Woodward was born in Pershore in 1801, son to a solicitor in the town. Woodward’s first exhibited picture was the portrait of a favourite horse belonging to a Mr Berry, which was shown at the Royal Academy in London in 1821. On the recommendation of his friend Sir Edwin Landseer, who had a high opinion of Woodward’s work, Woodward painted many portraits of horses for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and became a celebrated animal specialist.

Of all his pictures, his battle pieces achieved the greatest fame. One of his finest is now in the Worcester City museum collection and depicts The Battle of Worcester in 1651; it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837. This painting shows the young Charles II in the midst of bloody battle, gesturing towards the Cathedral at Worcester. Although the painting doesn’t accurately describe the way the battle went, it captures the horror of hand-to-hand fighting during the Civil War, and the bravery of Charles in the face of overwhelming opposition.

The collection also includes Woodward’s sketches for this painting – more information on these made up a previous Research Worcestershire post.

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.

David Cox and the artist’s muse

Image of Kenilworth Castle by David CoxMany painters famously have a muse, a model they are inspired to draw over and over again, someone often deeply entwined into their personal as well as their professional lives. Landscape painters, too, may have scenes that they turn to regularly over their career, becoming re-inspired as they interpret the view in a new way.

Birmingham-born artist David Cox (1783-1859) painted a large watercolour of Kenilworth Castle in 1806, the year after he first exhibited at the Royal Academy. This painting is now in Birmingham Museum’s collection and is critically considered his earliest important work. He went on to revisit this landscape throughout his career.

By contrast, this watercolour from the Worcester City museum collection by Cox dates to the very end of his career, just two years before his death. By 1856 his health meant he was no longer able to paint out of doors unaccompanied, but that didn’t stop him returning to the inspiration of his muse landscape. Even as he was suffering from his final bronchial illness in 1859, he still managed to send seven pictures for exhibition to the Watercolour Society.

Other watercolours of Kenilworth by David Cox are held in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Government Art Collection, and more at Birmingham Museums.

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.

Bust of Edward Evans (1789-1871) by William Brodie

web-edward-evans-sculpture-c-museums-worcestershireIn the mid-nineteenth century, the talented Scottish sculptor William Brodie turned his hand to create this lifelike bust of Edward Evans. In 1830 Evans, along with William Hill, founded the vinegar makers Hill & Evans, who by 1903 had the largest vinegar works in the world, in Lowesmoor, Worcester.

William Brodie (1815-1887) was born in Banff in Scotland and became a prolific portrait sculptor who, thanks to the verity and technical skills shown in his works, became a member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1859. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a popular way to depict gentry, land owners, politicians and other important figures was to commission well-known sculptors to create marble, bronze and plaster busts. The Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum sculpture collection includes works by Brock, Papworth, Baily and Kirk, in addition to this bust by Brodie which is on display in the museum.

By 1851, Edward Evans was also Managing Director of the Worcester City and County Banking Company. This bust originally belonged to the Worcester Bank, along with the bust of R Padmore by Papworth and we have evidence that both pieces were loaned by the Bank for display at the Worcester Exhibition of 1882. Worcester Bank was taken over by Lloyds and they presented these busts to the gallery in 1902.

worcestershire-exhibition-1882-catalogue-william-brodieGarston D Phillips

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.

WorcesterAG-20150303-153
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

Porcelain Bird Sculptures inspired by Museum’s Collection

Boehm of Malvern was a company formed to manufacture fine bone china and porcelain, opened by Helen Boehm in 1971. Whilst visiting London, Helen Boehm had heard about the high quality of English porcelain and discovered the work of former workers at Royal Worcester Porcelain who had formed Cranleigh Art Ceramics.

A studio in Tanhouse Lane, Malvern was set up, amalgamating Edward Marshall Boehm of Trenton, based in New Jersey, USA, with Cranleigh Art Ceramics to form a new company which Helen would finance and manage the sales for.

Worldwide sales were quickly established, and many of the sculptures were inspired by flowers, birds and animals. Seeking inspiration for their designs, the model makers were regular visitors to Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum to study the taxidermy collection, and even borrowed specimens to take to their Malvern studio for examination.

This sculpture from the Worcester City museum collection depicts a pair of long-tailed tits perched among the spikey foliage of a gorse bush. It was originally listed as a 400 limited edition piece, but manufacturing costs were increasing and the company prizes quality over quantity, and therefore only completed 162 of these by 1976.

Garston Phillips