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.

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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

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

Thomas Woodward (1801-1852) sketches for his painting The Battle of Worcester

web-woodward-studies-for-battle-of-worcester-c-museums-worcestershireThe tradition of carrying flags into battle dates back thousands of years, although it was the Roman army and the European wars of the Middle Ages that made rallying behind a flag part of battle strategy. The flag or colour became the command point for each regiment and the way a commanding general could identify placement on the battlefield. Battalions were trained to arrange themselves in relation to the colour and to reorganise from there when the battle became chaotic.

As battle tactics changed and the armies moved to khaki in the field, the use of colours in battle became more of a threat than a strategic advantage. The practice died out for the British Army during the Boer War and official policy changed in 1891. Other countries were still carrying flags into battle in WW1 and even WW2.

By the end of the Civil War at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, both sides were exhausted – the Parliamentarian army had reportedly jogged in their shirtsleeves to make the journey at speed – and knew that organisation and motivation on the battlefield would be essential, something that Cromwell’s New Model Army excelled at. The Royalist Scots troops used white field signs and so Cromwell ordered his army to wear nothing that was white. King Charles spent the early stages of the battle in Worcester Cathedral’s tower where he would have been watching the placement and struggle of each regimental colour across the city and the floodplain to the south.

This sketch from the Worcester City museum collection by Thomas Woodward (1801-1852) was made in preparation for his great painting The Battle of Worcester. In his finished painting, three colours fly over the churning battle. Although Victorian painters tended to romanticise the experience of war, Woodward captures the chaos it must have been at the Battle of Worcester.

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.